beyond the swan: the most amazing looks from björk’s moma retrospective

From her Alexander McQueen wedding dress to her Academy Award for Best Swan, the ultimate Björk fashion moments are all represented at her new MoMA retrospective, opening this weekend.

by Emily Manning
04 March 2015, 5:55pm

Photography Stéphane Sednaoui

Spanning multiple floors, MoMA's Björk invites viewers to completely immerse themselves in the Icelandic songstress' singularly unique world. There are "musical instruments" (read: Tesla coils and gravity harps) from her seventh studio album Biophilia; Songlines, an intensely personal journey through 22 years of handwritten journals and lyrics, costumes, video props, and a soundtrack-cum-audio guide designed specifically for the exhibition; and an installation screening Black Lake, a new video from her recently released album Vulnicura featuring a barefoot Björk in one of Iceland's many caves (naturally.)

Although the retrospective celebrates and explores Björk's music first and foremost, it's hard not to completely geek out over the exhibition's incredible compilation of costumes. Among them, of course, was Macedonian designer Marjan Pejoski's swan dress, the famous fowl with its own Wikipedia page that basically broke the 2001 Academy Awards. But Björk goes beyond the swan, exploring the singer's relationship with fashion throughout her unparalleled career. From her other worldly collaborations with Alexander McQueen to her Iris van Herpen Biophilia dress, we've rounded up the five most major looks from the unmissable retrospective.

Walter Van Beirendonck's Hyper-Ballad boots: For 96's Hyper-Ballad, the fourth single off her third studio album, Post, Björk called on esteemed music video director Michel Gondry to craft a techno-dream visual story full of flashing lights, buzzing static, and holograms. In the video, a pixelated Björk runs joyfully through a virtual city, stomping strong in a pair of red Walter Van Beirendonck boots. The 8-bit boots are on display IRL only at the MoMA.

Alexander McQueen's pearl "Pagan Poetry" dress: Retrospective curator Klaus Biesenbach said it at this morning's press conference: Björk's work is all about collaboration, and perhaps her most memorable partnership was with the late Alexander McQueen. After the two first met in 97, Björk commissioned McQueen to design the dress for what has become her most iconic album cover to date, the Nick Knight-lensed Homogenic. McQueen then directed the singer's video for Alarm Call, before undertaking their most ambitious project: the breathtaking pearl dress for Pagan Poetry. The Knight-directed video—which depicts Björk as a woman preparing for marriage clad in McQueen's topless, pearl-laced wedding dress—was out and out banned from MTV upon its 2001 release. The pair remained close collaborators until McQueen's 2010 death, when Björk sang at his St. Paul's Cathedral memorial service.

Photography by Stéphane Sednaoui. Image courtesy of Wellhart Ltd & One Little Indian

Hussein Chalayan's Airmail jacket: After first modeling for him in 95, Björk rocked Hussein Chalayan's famous Airmail jacket on the cover of Post. Crafted from super durable Tyvek paper, the jacket and accompanying dress were designed to resemble envelopes, inspired by Chalayan's childhood memories of sending letters to his mother in Turkey. Each Airmail piece came with its own envelope stamped 'Par Avion;' we've gotta wonder if Björk had the piece transported to the museum, or if she just stuck it in the mail.

Iris Van Herpen's Biophilia dress: Björk has always embraced and incorporated digital technologies in every aspect of her work, so it was kind of a no-brainer when she tapped 3D-printing master Iris Van Herpen back in 2011. The singer dug into the Dutch designer's intricate and sculptural fall/winter 2010 and spring/summer 2011 collections for her Biophilia album cover and supporting tour. Björk's electric blue, exoskeleton-esqe Van Herpen gown is the final look inside Songlines, a perfect pick to mark the next chapter in the singer's career and the future of fashion.

Bernhard Willhelm's Volta tour dress: For her seventh studio album Volta, Björk called on off-the-wall German designer Bernhard Willhelm. In addition to creating a crazy-colorful body sculpture that appeared on the cover of the 2007 album, Willhelm created custom looks for Volta's supporting tour. Björk and her all-girl brass band rocked Willhelm's tribal inspired prints, clashing colors, and intricate knits while they danced, screamed, and shouted to crowds of thousands. MoMA included three of Willhelm's Volta looks and the cover body sculpture in the retrospective's Volta component.


Text Emily Manning
Photography by Stéphane Sednaoui. Image courtesy of Wellhart Ltd & One Little Indian

Alexander McQueen
Hussein Chalayan
Stéphane Sednaoui
swan dress
bernhard willhelm
iris van herpen
Walter Van Beirendonck
pagan poetry