Within the Met, the Jewelry: The Body Transformed exhibit displayed a spangled bodysuit encased behind a glass column. The object was designed by Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen, and was labelled as Yashmak. This bodysuit possessed an interlocked pattern of aluminum tiles, each one embellished with intricate etchings and a crimson red Swarovski crystal in its center. A headpiece of an identical medium was attached to the bodice, covering all facial features except the eyes. The piece appeared quite snug against the body, creating a protective layer of “second skin.” However, a subtle fluidity could still be perceived underneath the confined and concrete material.
The bodysuit allures to the absurdity and this boundary between the erratic and the restrained. Despite its intentions for the female form, there is a masculine aura within this piece; It can even be affiliated with armor. Its presence provokes a debate in regards to beauty standards in society. Several questions emerge for the viewer while examining the display. What truly constitutes beauty and feminine appeal? Is this art or a waste of material? It also encompasses a general question within fashion: “How far can we push that boundary?”
A yashmak is a veil that masks the individual’s face and is a primary symbol of Middle Eastern dress. Leane drew inspiration from the yashmak in establishing a “provocative statement regarding the respective concealing and liberation of the body by Middle Eastern and Western cultures" (V&A Search the Collections). Unlike a traditional yashmak, Leane shatters this distaste towards the salacious by spurring both pain and seduction within the headpiece. The red crystals add a daunting, yet piercing effect to the piece as well. Jewelry’s common purpose is to establish a perception of divine glamour amongst the wearer. However, Yashmak defies this characteristic and lusts towards the idea of chaotic balance. There is a harmonious connection between the unconventional and conventional, similar to what is applied in other art forms.
McQueen often portrayed pain in his work and veered towards the grotesque side of beauty. A quote from McQueen was next to the display: “You find beauty in the ugliest of places.” Most of his lines were widely criticized due to the insanity expressed within his clothing, especially during his 1995 “Highland Rape” runway show in which his models were presumably portrayed as rape victims. Yet there was such a theatricality in his work that aroused this sense of bewilderment amongst his audience, thus stirring an overall craving for more. McQueen toyed with the boundaries of fashion and its limits until his demise in 2010 due to suicide.
Fashion is a persistent controversiality––the individual fabricates their own interpretation of its subjects and further elaborates on this cultural trend. Pieces such as Yashmak embody this desire to defy the societal norms of art. Without moot objects like Yashmak, the underlying questions of fashion will cease within society.
“Yashmak | Shaun Leane.” V&A Search the Collections, collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O1304568/ yashmak-shaun-leane/.