Behind the Scenes – Creation of a Masterpiece

Parallelly with Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition at V&A, there is a behind the scenes photography show running at Tate Britain. The exhibition of Nick Waplington´s photos takes a sneaky peek behind the glamorous polished face of Alexander McQueen´s collections, to give an idea of his inspirations and working process, which is far from fancy – instead being raw, bold and thought-provoking, including a lot of hard work. In 2009 Nick Waplington was invited to the House of McQueen to document the creation process of the final Autumn/Winter collection created by Lee himself, a year before his death – “Horn of Plenty”. McQueen was generally very secretive about his working process, so having such an access is something not many photographers have been allowed to witness. Nick captured an intense and theatrical working process, from sketching to production to the Paris catwalk show.

Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process, Untitled from the series 'Alexander McQueen Working Process' 2008-09

The critically acclaimed collection had recycling as the heart of it. As a retrospective season, Lee McQueen reused his ideas of the past decade –  updating silhouettes and cuts, copying fabrics from his earlier collections. The idea of recycling as such was central, provoked by post-credit crunch attitude in the UK. The catwalk was set out of discarded elements from the sets of his past shows and broken mirrors, with a kitchen sink crowning the pile of “junk” in the middle of the showroom. Even though there are dresses that look as if they have been created of black bin bags, best Italian silks were used as the material.

Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process, Untitled from the series 'Alexander McQueen Working Process' 2008-09

At the exhibition space images of working at the studio alternate with shots taken at the landfills and wastegrounds full of broken bottles, compressed trash and a huge bulldozer, that is supposed to symbolise Lee McQueen himself. The designer liked this idea. This radical theme provided inspiration for Waplington, best known for his photographic work centered on issues of class, identity and conflict.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

To be honest, if you expect the same grandiose impression from this exhibition, as from the V&A showcase, you´ll be greatly disappointed. However, if you are a fan of Lee´s work and want to have a peek into his everyday life, this will be just an exhibition to visit.

Open till 17th of May 2015


Morbid fashion

Recently i came across an interesting exhibition that is currently open in Lintz Art Museum, Austria.
“Love and Loss. Fashion and Mortality” deals with fashion´s everlasting game with transience. According to the curator of the exhibition Ursula Guttmann, dark tendencies started to appear in fashion in 1980s, before that it was a subject dealt with primarily in art and literature. Concept of beauty in fashion underwent a radical makeover, turning towards deconstruction, decay, animalism and naturalism, morbid fascination with perishability, romantic sadness and black humour.

“Fashion becomes a mirror in which we come face to face with our own mortality. It emphasizes the traces of time, praises transience and flirts with death.”

Mariana Fantich and Dominic Young Apex Predator male shoes, 2010 Loan from the artists © Fantich & Young

The exhibition consists of over 150 pieces of artworks of High Fashion and Street Fashion, photographs, videos, sculptures, paintings, graphic works and installations by 52 artists and artist groups. Artists incude Jean Paul Gaultier, Rei Kawakubo, Alexander McQueen, Iris van Herpen and many others.

Although the curator has looked at fashion from 1980s onwards, it seems to me the destructive tendencies started already mid-70s with explosion of the punk scene in London and New York, when street style took on an aggressive  “urban warrior” disguise. Back then it was the rebel against the society and current political system, with distressed and torn clothes and bone-applique T-shirts. There is a section at the exhibiton dedicated to punk fashion.

In 1997 Martin Margiela injected eighteen articles of clothing from past collections with bacteria that reacts to oxygen, thus staining the fabric. Slowly – documented by the photographer Bob Goedewaagen – the clothes began to decay and dissolve.

Hussein Chalayan also played with the concept of decay while making his graduate collection „Tangent Flows“  in 1994. He covered the silk gowns with small pieces of metal and buried them underground for several months, so when they were dug out, they were rusty and partly dissolved.

Hussein Chalayan

Among other designers Alexander McQueen is famous for his (emotionally and physically) destructive approach to fashion and “reincarnation” of animalistic features, mixed with skillful craft and advantages of modern technology.

It is interesting how Japanese appreciate traces of time and wear even higher than of the new product. This has been shown in the works of several designers who celebrated the signs of time, as well as deconstruction of the silhouette.

As morbid as the exhibition sounds, there is a special corner for dark humor. Some designers prefer to confront the fact of mortality with sarcasm and life with irony, celebrating it or making fun of things some find inappropriate. Some escape to parallel syrreal worlds to avoid reality.

At last the exhibition looks at the morbidity of fashion as business itself. Nowadays attitude to fast fashion and intolerable conditions that people who produce it have to suffer. Interchangability and disaposal of clothes, fashion styles, as well as runway models. The doomed industry of superficiality that is running after a dream that in reality is the nightmare of doom.

The exhibition stays open till 7 June 2015

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The question of mortality for the purpose of fashion has been quite important for me too. Firstly, because being a vegetarian and a leather accessories designer there is a slight contradiction between those two. The dilemma of how to justify these choices to myself got somehow answered one day when I visited a friend in the countryside of England. Her son had been out hunting(a pastime I do not personally approve of and would not take part of, but this is not my place to judge) and brought back two freshly shot pheasant birds, that were hanging on the wall of the house, as I arrived. The sight was so tragic and beautiful at the same time. While it made me wonder about the perishability of life as such, it also made me wish to immortalize the beauty, by creating something lasting of the magnificent bird´s feathers. It felt that if a designer or maker can “reincarnate” the beauty, once the life has run out, it would be as if giving the animals a new life as leather accessories.

Paris´ best hidden secret

Waking along walls of human bones with a slight smell of mold in the air. Bones of people who once were rich or poor, powerful or simple, lie mixed with one another, symbolizing human equality – if not earlier, then at least after death. Literally under the beautiful city of Paris there is another secret town with about 300 km of secret passages that have streets running parallelly under the ones on the ground, often bearing same names. Parisian catacombs are former quarries, dating back to Roman times. Strictly regulated stone digging went on until the prohibition at the beginning of 19th century. At the same time several Parisian cemeteries were severely overcrowded, starting to cause diseases to their living neighbours. It was then decided to turn the catacombs into common graveyard and transfer the bones underground. Additionally the underground space has been used for other purposes, such as covert during the Second World War. A small part of the catacombs have been open to public already since mid-19th century.
Public entrance can be recognised only by a long winding queue in front of it. Other than that it´s just an unremarkable black door of a random small house with a spiral staircase leading underground as you enter. The corridors are cut off with prison doors that trigger paranoid thoughts of getting locked up for good. However, excitement beats claustrophobia, urging to continue deeper and deeper underground.
“Arrête! C’est ici l’empire de la mort.”
Bones of approximately six million people are laid out as straight wall of 18-27 meters in width, next to the side of a kilometer long passage. All of the bones are systematically grouped according to the cemetery where they are from. The first impression is quite appalling, but it is easy to get used to the surroundings. After a while you tend to forget that these bones ever had in fact belonged to people and this seems to be just part of setting.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Most of the catacombs are closed to public. Despite it being illegal there are several secretive bands forming a subculture of cataphiles. Those are the people deeply into discovering catacombs through and through, having carefully mapped out the entire area. There is a danger of getting lost underground without knowing the passages. In the shadows of the night cataphiles crawl underground using drains and ventilation shafts. Although it is easy to imagine people holding extreme rituals, the main interest of cataphiles is just discovering secret passages, having underground picnics or throwing raves. Some of them even live there.
In 2004 police in Paris had discovered a fully equipped cinema with a small couscous restaurant in a large and previously uncharted cavern. It looked like an underground amphitheatre, with terraces cut into the rock and chairs. The whole thing ran off a professionally installed electricity system with several phone lines underground. There was a selection of movies from 1950s film noir classics to more recent thrillers. None of the films were banned or even offensive according to the spokesman. Three days later, when the police returned to investigate further, the place was cleared out with all of the phone and electricity lines cut off. On the floor they found a sign “Do not try to find us”.

Looking at Parisian catacombs from the style perspective, Alexander McQueen´ s sculls come to mind. Particularly his men´s AW 10/11 collection that was directly inspired of the catacombs with graphic prints on the suits.

Recently Riina O had a lookbook shoot collaboration with Belle Sauvage. Some of their AW 15/16 dresses suggested they had also used catacombs as one of their inspirations.

Parts of this story were published in Estonian newspaper Eesti Ekspress.