Alexander McQueen “Savage Beauty”

“I want to be the purveyor of a certain silhouette or a way of cutting, so that when i´m dead and gone people will know that the 21st century was started by Alexander McQueen.”

The retrospective exhibition of Alexander McQueen´s works called “Savage Beauty” finally came home to London. When “Savage Beauty” first showed at New York Metropolitan Museum in 2011 it became one of the most successful exhibitions in the Museum´s history. I think of the same fate for this exhibition at V&A.

You can feel tension in the air as you walk in through the doors into the exhibition room. Muzzled mannequins at one wall, with Lee McQueen himself talking on tape about making his first collections off his dole money. Creating gorgeous clothing pieces off absolutely no budget.
Shows were his playground to do whatever he wanted, go wild and stage a performance – never dull.
As you walk through the rooms of perfectly tailored jackets – a skill he learned while apprenticing at Savile Row even before starting his career as a fashion designer – you enter another room titled “Romantic Gothic” followed by the sound of classical music with mannequins wearing gimp masks and couture. The keywords here are: Victorian Gothic inspirations, Edgar-Allan Poe, dealing with dark side of his personality through fashion.
“There is blood beneath every layer of skin.”
McQueen´s women are never naive and innocent, they are dominating, aggressive, tough, someone who won´t go down without a fight and often come out as a winners.

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Then you continue to  the darkened corridor into the room with walls covered in bones, like Parisian catacombs. It is a fully engaging exhibition space with aquarium-looking screen in the ceiling, inspired by his “Irere” collection. “Romantic Primitivism” room explores tribalism in McQueen´s collections. Primitivism of noble savage, Yoruba mythology is used as inspiration for mannequins with horns in the middle of their face. Exotic pieces include beaded pony skin evening dress, a coat made out of hair, crocodile heads on the shoulders of a garment, etc.

4. Romantic Primitivism Installation view of London gallery Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty. Victoria and Albert Museum London

And you proceed to another room accompanied by the sound of classical music again that leads you to experience his “Romantic Nationalism” of his last, post mortem collection. Utterly royal. McQueen tartan mixed with lace and crystals.
“It was time to come out of the dark and into the light”.

5. Romantic Nationalism Installation view of London gallery Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty. Victoria and Albert Museum London

“I want to create pieces that can be handed down, like a heirloom”.
“The Cabinet of Curiosities” filled with a selection of his most creatively outrageous pieces and collaborations with other craftsmen and designers. Wooden dresses, leather molded body pieces, tops made of sea shells, metal pipes or crystals, unbelievable 3D-printed shoes.
“I find beauty in grotesque, like most artists. I have to force people to look at things.”

6. The Cabinet of Curiosities Installation view of London gallery Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty. Victoria and Albert Museum London

The maze of the exhibition continues into the dark room with a glass pyramid in the middle with a hologram of Kate Moss “dancing”. This was created not digitally, as one can assume, but using a “Pepper´s Ghost” technique from the 19th century, involving projectors and mirrors that at a time was believed that real ghosts were being called back from beyond the grave.

Kate Moss hologram

Just when you expect it to be the end you step out into the mirrored room of pastels inspired by the Far East, Japan in particular. It is easy to spend hours there looking at every stitch and guessing the source of inspiration for every pattern or detail.
This is followed by a room of “Romantic Naturalism” with real(or probably artificial) flower dresses from “Sarabande” collection, sea shell dress and feather dresses. McQueen´s love for ornitology and savagery of animal world and nature. You can only wonder which unusual materials did McQueen not use in his collections…
The final room displays his arguably best collection of “Plato´s Atlantis” early era of digital print, and 3D-printed footwear, perfectly captured and evolved within itself.
“There is no way back for me now. I´m going to take you on journeys you never dreamed possible”.

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5 years since his death McQueen´s star shines brightly. During his short life he gave so much to the world of fashion. He was without a doubt one of the most talented, creative and masterous designers of our times.

Utterly inspiring exhibition! I would recommend going there alone to fully experience it, breathe in all the details of his craftsmanship and absorb dark and savage concept.

This story was also published in Estonian web magazine Femme.