Provocative, flamboyant, excessive, empowering are all words that have been used to describe the short-lived life of the gifted designer Alexander McQueen. With the public, press and fashionistas fascinated by him, his fashion shows were legendary as was his creative, thoughtful and romantically schizophrenic mind.
The Savage Beauty exhibition, currently on show at London’s V&A has already been on show in New York, interestingly before his hometown. However the curation has been tweaked and expanded to accommodate the genius workmanship- and it has been lauded as a spiritual homecoming of epic proportions and takes a proud stance with 240 pieces on show across 10 rooms.
Known for creating darkly beautiful collections- both wearable and theatrical, McQueen, brought up by a black cabbie dad, was a Londone through and through, stating “London is where I was brought up. It’s where my heart is and where I get my inspiration.”
The V&A gallery has done a splendid job of keeping the show fresh, exciting and full of emotion- the clothes speak for themselves whether you personally knew Lee and the collections or not. Showcasing the dominant themes, which inherently cross boundaries between light and dark, you get an insight into the designers head, which has always been a fascination, “Fashion is a big bubble and sometimes I feel like popping it.” (Alexander McQueen, 2009), which sums up the often controversial and always inventive way he approached design.
The vastness and juxtaposition of his collections is beyond compare and the show becomes a space where you can happily enter the fairy tale (or nightmare) and get lost. Even the moniker Savage Beauty is a combination of the cruel world that is still so striking. Having a passion for ornithology from a young age, is without a doubt something that influences his collections, from the detail of using macabre hybrids of skulls, feathers and claws to baby crocodiles.
Very often McQueen portrayed his woman as animalistic –with clothes lending themselves to a strong-willed, powerful human-creature hybrid, something that no designer will ever be able to recreate: a true pioneer and a creative mastermind.
Each room has its own carefully crafted synergy that provides a three-dimension experience as you follow the dream. Not laid out in a typical chronological way, the show picks up on themes and has been curated as a tortured mind, whilst remaining fluid and keeping the audience needy for more.
Peppered with quotes such as “I’m going to take you on journeys you’ve never dreamed were possible”, snippets about his life, the historical references which exemplify his thirst for knowledge and the power of history along with the mood enhancing lighting and sound, entice you to enter the complex realm of the designers mind.
Enjoying the exhibition is easy; getting to know someone who is now dead is a hard realization. Many of the collections are common knowledge as his shows were legendary, but to see the craftsmanship such as the infamous Armadillo shoe from ‘The Home is Where the Heart is” collection, close up is worth it’s weight in gold.
The Room ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ is a playground of trinkets, jewels, catwalk films and collaborations packed floor to ceiling in a room also showing the footage from nearly all the catwalk shows. It is here where the fashion really turns into works of art, and you can discover the minute details of the jewellery collaborations with Shaun Leane, Swarovski and milliner Philip Treacy.
The showpiece is the slowly revolving “Dress No. 13”, which was created live on the catwalk by industrial robots for the finale of the Spring/Summer 2008 show and you can see the previously mentioned Armadillo shoe, butterfly headpiece and skeletal corset close up.
The retrospective spans McQueen’s career from his MA show in ‘92 through to his last (unfinished) AW10 collection, and is showing at the Victoria & Albert museum in London from March 14th until August 2nd 2015.