66 original pieces, 77,000 tickets sold, a couple of close designer friends and the exhibition’s sponsor Swarovski and you are suddenly thrown into a world of unprecedented imagination. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty has become the fastest selling and most popular exhibition in London, let alone at the V&A Museum in South Kensington.
‘Today, Lee McQueen is coming home’. These were the words of Martin Roth, the director of the museum at opening night who expressed a desire to bring to life the inspiring collections which became the backbone of McQueen’s success. McQueen was an avid lover of the V&A, so it was only fitting to have the help of Annabelle Neilson and Stylist Katy England to expand on the previous exhibition exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2011.
I had been waiting months to finally get tickets for the exhibition which in its last two weekends has had overnight viewings due to popular demand! Whether you are a fashion fanatic or love all forms of art, the exhibition is for everyone. With goose bumps from beginning to end, the capacity of one man’s talent is far reaching. The exhibition was a moving tribute to a man whose vision and triumph was not contested and whose romantic mind was consistently promoted: ‘You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition’.
As I walked through the exhibition, a chronological identity was developed with quotes printed on the walls. Every quote gave an extraordinary insight into the working mind of McQueen with one quote reading: ‘I oscillate between life and death, happiness and sadness, good and evil’. Every room amplified McQueen’s feelings at the time and was reflected through every collection he ever made. In January 2000, McQueen commented: ‘London’s where I was brought up. It’s where my heart is and where I get my inspiration’. The work on display emphasised McQueen’s relationship with his British and Scottish roots which was the epicentre of his world, having studied at Central St Martins and completing apprenticeships with Gieves and Hawkes and other costumiers. He was an inventive and proficient tailor who worked in a small team with a low budget to create ground-breaking and evocative fashion shows across industrial hubs of the capital. He recalled ‘There was so much repression in London fashion. It had to be livened up.’ His interest in the history of England was most apparent in The Girl Who Lived in the Tree (Autumn/Winter 2008) inspired by an elm tree in the garden of his country home. This collection was one of McQueen’s most romantically nationalistic pieces, though heavily tinted with irony and parody.
The rooms were magnificently surreal, with every room a reflection of the theme. There was a room that was tartan inspired with wood panelling to suggest a true British heritage and a tribal inspired collection taken from McQueen’s interest in nature and the origins of man that was placed against walls made of bones. With little information regarding McQueen’s life and work, the quotes are a gateway to understanding his psychology at the time.
The stand-out room remains ‘The Cabinet of Curiosities’ which is a blacked-out room focusing on primitive artefacts and paraphernalia with countless cabinets showcasing some of McQueen’s famous headpieces by world renowned milliner Phillip Treacy as well as collections which were debuted on the catwalk and one-off creations and not intended for production. With 27 television screens at all corners of the room, your eyes took you on a personal journey of catwalk success. The famous ‘butterfly’ headdress was on show from the La Dame Bleue show in 2008 made from hand painted turkey feathers. The room was arranged in such a way that I was lost for words. With McQueen’s most subversive pieces on show, people would sit in the middle of the room taking it all in piece by piece.
If that wasn’t enough to pull a few heart strings in awe of his fabulous talent, the next room had a hologram of a ghostly Kate Moss. First appearing in McQueen’s 2006 ‘Widows of Culloden’ show in Paris, the exhibition had a giant pyramid which had an ethereal figure of Moss shown floating inside, set against the poignant soundtrack from Schindler’s List. It was truly mesmerising as she emerged from a white dot. The vision recreated made it easier to digest McQueen’s own depression. It is easier to see why he described himself as a ‘romantic schizophrenic’ and the exhibition illustrated McQueen’s understanding of what the human mind was capable of doing.
The final room was nature’s influence on McQueen. Plato’s Atlantis, McQueen’s final Spring Summer collection before he passed away in 2010 was inspired by Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species (1859). McQueen reinterpreted his original findings and focused his energy to produce a collection that would centre on the devolution of mankind and the evolution. He used digitally engineered 3D prints which were inspired by sea creatures and his towering ‘Armadillo’ boots became a pivotal part of the collection. Alexander McQueen commented:
‘Plato’s Atlantis predicted a future in which the ice cap would melt, the waters would rise and life on earth would have to evolve in order to live beneath sea once more or perish. Humanity would go back to the place from whence it came’.
Craftsmanship, innovation and technology contributed to McQueen’s final collection before he passed away and Plato’s Atlantis is considered by many to be his greatest achievement; a future vision of fashion which would change the course of the industry for centuries to come!