The symbolism of the white and black swan is a cultural reference to the two swans in Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake (1875-1876), where one ballerina dances the two versions of the swan. It is a fairy tale about Odette. She is turned into a white swan by a magician and falls in love with a swan prince.
Unfortunately, Odette is ousted by the black swan, Odile, who eventually lures the prince away. The white swan stands for innocence, romance and youth personified by Odette, who dies at the end of the story. The black swan represents the threatening, demonic and erotic powers of a femme fatale who ultimately prevails, but in the end loses her lover. The mythological story of Leda, who was cunningly overpowered by Zeus in the form of a swan, also stands for innocence lost and evil that triumphs in the form of charm.
The duality between good and evil is very much present in the dramatic oeuvre of British designer Alexander McQueen.
Since childhood he was fascinated by birds in flight, he says: ‘Birds in flight fascinate me. I admire eagles and falcons. I am inspired by a feather’s shape but also its color, its graphics, its weightlessness and its engineering. It’s so elaborate. In fact I try and transpose the beauty of a bird to women.’ (Quote from A. Bolton, Savage Beauty, NY, 2011, p. 172)