World Chess Hall of Fame

Sue McCollum, Major Brands; Derek Vest, Wells Fargo; Susan Barrett, World Chess Hall of Fame; Atul Kamra, Wells Fargo; and Kert Rosenkoetter, Saks Fifth Avenue.

By Sarah Crowder

Nationwide, fashionable eyes are fixated on St. Louis, thanks to the upcoming fashion exhibition, A Queen Within: Adorned Archetypes, Fashion and Chess. The show, which includes extremely rare pieces from a private collection of British designer Alexander McQueen, opens next month at the World Chess Hall of Fame.

“If you think about it, we’re all various aspects of the game,” says Susan Barrett, World Chess Hall of Fame executive director. “Sometimes you feel like a pawn, and sometimes you feel like a queen, and that’s not unlike when you get dressed.”

Barrett, who has a background in art curating, says she helped amass the collection for clients—now considered the world’s largest private McQueen collection. A Queen Within will include not just work by McQueen, but pieces from Gucci, Pam Hogg, Jean Paul Gaultier, Iris van Herpen, Writtenafterwards, Hideki Seo and others.

Two levels of the World Chess Hall of Fame in the Central West End will be packed with attire, artwork, and film and photography representing nine archetypes of the queen, such as a magician, enchantress, or heroine.

London-based fashion curator Sofia Hedman is designing the exhibit. Hedman was a logical fit for A Queen Within, as she archived the incredibly popular 2010 Metropolitan Museum of Art Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition. “The queen on the chessboard is very unpredictable and very powerful, and all of these designers are very unpredictable in their designs,” Hedman says. “Maybe they’re not so much based on trends, but more a high aesthetical value.”

These aesthetically valuable pieces range in size, material and theme, with some teetering closer to sculpture than suits or sportswear. “When you’re working on an exhibition, you fall in love with all of them for different reasons,” explains Hedman, noting the Bubble Dress by Hussein Chalayan as one of her top picks.

The impact of A Queen Within stretches further than fashion, as an educational program, Queen Power, will work to bridge the gender gap in chess. “We’ve always had outreach programs, and we’ve targeted various aspects of how chess can help self-esteem, behavior and focus,” explains Barrett. “There’s an societal need for women to be nice, which is fantastic—but that also means we’re shying away from our aggression, our forcefulness and our competitiveness. I think we need to teach girls to be competitive and be proud of it.”

Woman Grandmaster Jennifer Shahade will be at part of the Oct. 16 Queen Power: Bringing Girls to Chess education event, at which the participating girls will tour the exhibition, making them the first members of the public to view the finished product. “People seem to think that chess appeals to the left-brainers,” Barrett says. “My goal is to show that chess is a very creative endeavor.”

Only time will tell what happens to the exhibition after it closes in St. Louis in April, but there is currently talk of travel. “And the conversations have not just been national, but international,” Barrett adds. “Cross your fingers.”

A Queen Within is presented by Wells Fargo, with support from Saks Fifth Avenue, Swarovski and Major Brands. 

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