During a time where you only need to be a reality TV star, where fame and fashion have joined forces to make a ‘designer’ and when one clothing collection looks like the next, you can imagine how sad it feels to walk around the Savage Beauty exhibition which has just come to an end, hailing the late works of the most imaginative, avant-garde and daring fashion designer of the 21st century, Lee Alexander McQueen.
The exhibition turned out to be the biggest grossing and most visited exhibition in the V&A’s history, oversubscribed even, as much so, that the museum remained open for its final 24 hours to try to meet demand and have the experience of the world of McQueen.
Housed in the decadent labyrinth of London’s V&A, the highlights of Alexander McQueen’s historic rise as a fashion designer are celebrated. Curated by Claire Wilcox a woman who was lucky enough to spend time with McQueen and tried to get him to show at the V&A while he was alive, although during that time he always made excuses that he was too busy and too young to achieve such a feat, so this feels like a sad but good dream that was a long time in the making. The exhibition is similar to the one housed in the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in New York City in 2011 but for the show in London, the exhibition has been expanded to include McQueen’s early works as a graduate and his breakthrough into the industry.
So the exhibition, well on entry to the cube, the black drapes hang and drag, it’s dark and eery, while McQueen’s face hovers ghost like over the entrance, almost guarding his works in that theatrical way that he was famous for.
The first room is incredibly industrial, raw and urban, it documents his graduate collection ‘‘The Highland Rape’’ and the city where his of love of fashion was rooted and where his collections gained inspiration, London! ‘I’m a romantic scichrephic’ narrates McQueen on the concrete washed walls that’s certainly one way to describe it, I would go with crazy, but who I am to judge. His early works were incredibly simple, where he drew on tradition, tailoring and his heritage, themes he continued to draw on throughout his work, but here they are at their most evident. Shredded lace gowns, slashed leather jackets, corroded one pieces and sadistic masks. I probably won’t be wearing a leather mask down the high street tomorrow, but I think I can see where he was going with it! Not your average collection but this isn’t your average designer this is McQueen starting to provoke a reaction and his way of starting a revolution.
Nothing in here is quite ready to wear but that’s not the point, it’s not just clothes on a rack, you’re seeing art, being immersed into his vision and his imagination, its wonderful. And from one room to the next its mind-blowing, the collection I have just seen goes to another extreme, this is the recurring theme throughout the exhibition. The next room inspired by his love of ‘romantic exoitiscm’. A heavily blacked out room, with ornate mirrors and acid stained glass and a clear step up in the detail of McQueen’s wacky outfits. You can see the themes from next door carried though but the detail is on another level. Incredibly detailed gown’s made from goose feathers, sprayed gold, black lace, high necks collars and capes galore, talk about drama! The masquerade theme is ever evident here, and this plays into McQueen’s fascination with sexuality and the sense of freedom to become and explore sexuality in all manner of ways, its pretty deep! I had to squint my way through this room, much like I have with the dark side of his personality. Rubbing my temples, I can only wait to see what’s around the corner.
What feels like a cross between the Flintstone’s and the Deep Blue, his Romantic Privitism collection draw’s on his fascination with skeleton’s and tribalism. If you were after a coat of human hair you have definitely arrived at the right place! The hairy coat as I called it, is definitely the standout piece, I do wonder how it never made it onto the high street though? He took some classic shapes here again and added his leather staple to create a piece with inspiration from tribal patterns, he had it lazered into the leather, an avant-garde way of dress making at the time, which has now filtered though and become a common mark in clothes today. As some sea goddess swims above my head, I slide along the stone tree line walls, slip through the black curtain into a room that would sit rather comfortable amongst the State rooms at Buckingham Palace, no sign of the queen though here!
Another part of McQueen, which was incredibly important to him, was his heritage. There’s no doubt that McQueen was patriotic and adored his Scottish roots and that’s laid bare within the Widows of Culloden collection. Inspired by Jacobite Riding in 1745, the collection was full of tartan, constructed for today, the most artistic has to the grey lace dress, worn with antlers and a veil. I felt like this was bringing together once again the traditional and yet ethereal vision of McQueen. It’s a bit creepy and uncomfortable but somehow it works, you feel like the clothes are literally talking to you. Oh wait, now I’m going crazy, its contagious!
By far the most surreal and mind blogging of rooms was the cabinet of curiosities. Showcasing various pieces of nature which have been lost in time but with McQueen’s vision and collaboration’s that he forged with other designers, he brought them back to life. Where the surreal comes to the forefront, Butterfly greenhouse headdresses (lets not leave out that the butterflies were flying and breathing!), the spine corset, the coil body plate. These pieces are all one of kind for his shows and were never made for production. I felt slight unease around these curiosities, because that’s what they are, parts of life for the curious, but that was McQueen, he found beauty in the grotesque, and forced people to look. I felt like I was in accessories closet, sitting on the centrepiece and pondering what to wear, it turns out none of it! You really have to admire McQueen on how his imagination really went above and beyond and made it into the mainstream. I managed to scan the room for at least half an hour, before I became consumed that I was having a bad dream, time to move on!
The whole time I was walking through, I was wondering how Kate Moss, his long-term friend and muse who frequently was the focal point of his shows, would feature. She popped up in various spots, but the most visual was in the cinematic prism, this closed his Windows of Culloden show. Moss, angel like suspended beneath the prism with the clever use of projection and mirrors, slowly gliding around a white sheet, it was classic. Classic in its simplicity and classic McQueen, in his way to shock and showcase a new technique. It’s Moss at the end of the day, who could wear anything and be anywhere and still look cool.
The end wraps with Plato’s Atlantis, his last unfinished collection, completely different and literally on another planet. This out of all of his work has now gone onto inspire a generation. Gaga’s Bad Romance video isn’t as original as your might think, paying homage to McQueen, maybe she’s not but everything about it, is a reflection of this collection. The iconic Armadillo boot, the concept being light years ahead of time, its one of a kind, it’s different, its show-stopping, it’s McQueen!
‘You’ve got to know the rules to break them, That’s what i’m here for, to demolish the rules but keep the traditions’.
Leaving the exhibition, it would be easy for part of me to feel like I was having a bad dream but the other part of me felt like I had just been inspired and fortunate enough to be apart of something very special!
*Photos from Savage Beauty from V&A website
**Photos from Inferno – TheUrbanEdit’s own