There was an excitement and a sadness in the air at the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty preview at the V&A, excitement at the exhibition finally coming home – we’ve waited nearly five years, as well as a sense of remembrance at who Lee Alexander McQueen was, and the legacy he has left with his creativity and talent.
I wish I could say that I was one of those lucky few that met the designer, who attended one of his shows, or have even worn one of his iconic pieces, sadly my love for McQueen started with a lusting over his creative genius in the pages of Vogue, his pieces always seems to come alive for fashion shoots and easily captured my attention over other designers in the noughties, so seeing his pieces at the V&A was simply sublime.
It was weird going round, you could hear people reminiscing over their own encounters with Lee McQueen, discussing the first catwalk show they went to, and there was excitement when their favourite pieces were displayed. In some respects, it was like attending the designer’s wake, but without the tears and more the admiration of his talent and how he drove fashion to be more creative, take more risks, and to explore the darker side of life.
His fashion vision was like no other, he really had an original way of blending fashion with so many different themes from architecture to history and even nature, which was one of his biggest fascinations and can be seen throughout the exhibition, and he really did have the ability to capture everyone’s imagination, whether you are into fashion or not, his craftsmanship crossed boundaries. I think it was the ability to tell a good story that drew people in, there is drama and passion in his work, as well as a darkness, and his designs always seem to leave you wanting more.
I was expecting great things from this exhibition, everyone raved about it when it was at the Met in New York, but this is London, his hometown, I was expecting greatness, a tribute fitting for one of the most talented designers of his generation, and wow the V&A have not disappointed, they’ve created an intimate exhibition featuring 240 ensembles and accessories and that is no easy task. I have to say that I think this is one of the most magical fashion exhibitions I’ve been to, I love that they let his talent, creativity and stunning clothes do the talking, and not on the salacious aspects of his life.
The first stop on the McQueen journey is the London room, focusing on his early raw creativity, where there’s a calm that I wasn’t expecting. Granted there is a large display screen showing footage of his earliest catwalk shows, but I was all prepared to have my senses bombarded, as that was how I perceived an Alexander McQueen spectacular to be like. It always looked full on, emotional, and most importantly it was always utterly creative and original. What these early pieces did show was how talented he was from the offset; you can see why the critics hailed him as a great designer from the beginning.
The real explosion of McQueen came when I entered the Romantic Gothic room, where the romance, gothic sensibility and craftsmanship can be seen. This room is exquisitely laid out, you can get so close you can nearly touch the pieces, and some even make you want to stroke them, and I adored the vintage-inspired gilded mirrors lining the room, it really added a gorgeous dynamic to view the collections, and I think seeing them in the mirror as a reflection showed off the darker side of McQueen that not everyone saw.
The romantic grandeur continued in the Romantic Nationalism catwalk-like corridor, with some of McQueen’s most iconic pieces on display from his Girl Who Lived in the Tree, autumn/winter 2008, and Widows of Culloden, autumn/winter 2006 collections, filled with his exploration of his Scottish heritage. This room seemed to excite the most people, McQueen’s tartan is a statement that still continues with the brand today, and I just adore the red swan and its explosion of ruffles, add those magnificent gold headpieces and it makes a sublime statement.
The heart of McQueen seems to be found inside The Cabinet of Curiosities, where there is so much to see it literally makes your head spin, while your eyes decide what to focus on first. Seeing the double-height gallery lined with a multitude of box frames is truly breath-taking, it was as though it needed to be so elaborate to explore McQueen’s complex imagination.
At the centre of the room is the famous spray paint dress worn by Shalom Harlow in the finale of the spring/summer 2009 collection, it twirls like a delicate ballerina, and helps you draw your focus around the room at the other moving exhibits, from the beautiful butterfly headdress by Philip Treacy to McQueen’s signature Armadillo shoes, plus there are 27 screens showing footage from the designer’s catwalk shows. I really think you could spend hours in this room and you still wouldn’t see it all.
Next was one the most delicate touches, the spectacular Pepper’s Ghost that recreated a fairy-sized haunting hologram of Kate Moss, from McQueen’s Widows of Culloden collection. Everything from the movement of Kate’s ghost floating in a gorgeous gown to the music brought tears to my eyes.
From spinning ballerinas and fairy-sized ghosts to mannequins rotating in mirrored music boxes, seriously this exhibition has it all, the Romantic Exoticism was one of my favourite rooms, exploring McQueen’s interest in Eastern cultures drawing inspiration from traditional Japanese dress forms such as the kimono, I particularly love the pieces styled with painted fibreglass American football helmets and shoulder pieces, and seeing them spin just adds to their beauty and craftsmanship, I was truly mesmerised.
The stunning collection continued in the Romantic Naturalism room, a snug space lined with glass cabinets displaying what looks like pieces of art, with blossoming floral gowns that look like they’ve grown around the mannequins. The whole exhibition I was in awe at his talent, but this room takes it to a whole other level, the beauty and the fragility of the designs is simply beautiful.
The exhibition finishes on a high, closing with Plato’s Atlantis, his last fully realised collection, which fused his love of nature with technology, with mannequins standing to attention in front of a large screen displaying the catwalk show. There is something so iconic about a lot of McQueen’s work, but this collection really stands out, maybe it’s those Armadillo shoes or the gorgeous silhouette of the dresses, but this will always be one of my favourite collections and it really was a fitting end to a spectacular exhibition.
More than 70,000 tickets have been sold, so trust me when I say you are going to want to book tickets to not be disappointed, as this is one of those exhibitions that will have people talking for years, and I’m not sure if any fashion exhibition at the V&A will be able to top the beauty of McQueen, I hope they are up for the challenge.
I have tons more photos, like a 100 or so, and I will put them on Facebook or on a gallery over the weekend so you can see them all.
I also did a very shaky video of the exhibition as I loved it so much, I did it on my smartphone, I know I really need to invest in a proper camera that records as I just can’t seem to get the hang of it on my Canon 650d, but it does give you a look at how special this exhibition is.