THE ALEXANDER MCQUEEN SAVAGE BEAUTY EXHIBITION
On 14th March, the highly anticipated Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition arrived in London at the Victoria and Albert Museum. The remarkable exhibition is the only British retrospective of the ground breaking designer, a man who skilfully influenced the discipline of tailoring while pushing the limits of art, fashion and technology to the delight of anyone interested in the world of fashion.
The show was first implemented by the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and since has been expanded and edited for its emotional London appearance. It features many rare pieces and examples of McQueen’s work, with some lent by the likes of Katy England, House of Givenchy and the family of the late Isabella Blow.
Looking to capture the most memorable snapshots of his career, the exhibition is divided into sections that convey the essence of his remarkable catwalk shows over the years. The exhibition boasts more than 200 original items, charting McQueen’s career from the early days (Highland Rape) to the height of his worldwide fame (VOSS). Utilising theatrical techniques, 3D holographic technology and film footage to complement the creations, this exhibition is fittingly ground breaking, flamboyant and inventive.
Lee (Alexander) McQueen’s voice lingers over the V&A’s Savage Beauty entrance like a haunting melody, his Cockney tones harking “I am going to take you on journeys you never knew were possible” he says, as exhibition goers stare in wonder at the dried flowers McQueen combined with ripped silk to create the iconic floral hooped gown that served as the highlight in his VOSS collection of 2001 “There is no way back for me now”.
It is this sense of journey, the notion that as you walk through its halls Savage Beauty is taking you on an exploration that makes it unmissable. You see, first hand, the mind of an extraordinary creator.
I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress – Alexander McQueen
Highlights include the collection of overcoats and bumster trousers which populate the exhibitions London edit.Additional key pieces from the Highland Rape show donated to the V&A by Isabella Blow, to the fantastical Romantic Primitivism room which shows McQueen’s obsession with death explored through eaten-away silk gowns and decaying roses next to the thick horsehair overcoats that featured in his Horn of Plenty collection of autumn/winter 2009.
The Cabinets of Curiosities is an area which brings together paraphernalia produced for McQueen by a host of his friends and collaborators and is among Savage Beauty’s most breath taking. Combining horse bit mouth guards, refashioned for the designer by the jeweller Shaun Leane as well as gimp masks drafted in sumptuous leather and embellished with black pearls, the curiosities (curious in the darkest, most wonderful sense) bring with them endless opportunities to stop and stare. Their accompanying soundtrack is footage from McQueen’s most spectacular shows which play out on small TV screens (my personal favourite being the ´It´s Only A Game´ chessboard inspired runway show of 2005).
Set designs, revived for the V&A version of Savage Beauty by long-term McQueen collaborator Sam Gainsbury, allowed visitors the chance to experience the showmanship of McQueen first hand. A mirrored box, fashioned to reflect the glass box that served as catwalk during the 2001 VOSS show, showcases star pieces from the collection and at regular intervals, falls into complete darkness. As a result, the viewer finds himself starring into his own reflection. A clever trick McQueen himself would have delighted in.
Past the shock tactics and the ´gothic romantic´ themes, the intricate stitching work and McQueen’s unrivalled status as a master tailor can be marvelled at up close. The turkey feathers used by Phillip Treacy to create the spellbinding butterfly head dresses from the designer’s La Dame Bleue provide further moments of wonder in a hidden corner.
There is a real sense of sadness at work within this exhibition too as its creators, many of whom were once McQueen’s closest confidantes, seek to highlight the life of a talent which ended much too soon. Donations from stylist Katy England and milliner Treacy which appear throughout this show are a telling reminder that McQueen’s visions were always collaborative efforts.
For people who know McQueen, there is always an underlying message. It’s usually only the intellectual ones who understand what’s going on in what I do – Alexander McQueen
For me, the highlight of the exhibition was the final room where the ethereal gown Kate Moss wore in Widows of Culloden (unveiled in 2006) had me gazing in awe as the holographic supermodel emerged from the darkness to dance before my eyes. The haunting theme from ´Schindler´s List´ ended the exhibition with a bitter sweet memory of Lee.
Savage Beauty is no regular fashion exhibition but a work of art which proves that fashion and art still continue to coexist and complement each other in every aspect of life, as we know it.
With special thanks to Sam Wilson at Alexander McQueen HQ London and Zoe Franklin, Senior Press Officer at the Victoria & Albert Museum London.
Article: Charles Daniel McDonald
Photography Credits: Victoria & Albert Museum London / Alexander McQueen