Now the work of this unlikely fashion idol and the son of a London Cab Driver has returned home. The exhibition opened to the Public in March and due to it’s popularity has been extended until August. Curated by Claire Wilcox, Senior Curated of Fashion at the V&A and Professor at the London College of Fashion this exhibition takes it’s own view on the New York exhibition and added items of McQueen’s earliest work, never seen before.
LAYOUT OF THE EXHIBITION
The exhibition isn’t organised chronologically. Instead, the curators opted to lead the visitors on a journey, which explores the main themes and ideas that Alexander McQueen pursued throughout his career. Themes of polar opposites such a Life and Death, Lightness and Darkness, Predator and Prey, Man and Machine. Indeed, Alexander McQueen always started his collections with an idea or a concept for the runway presentation. Each theme in this exhibition is brought to life, not only through the ingenuity of the display but it’s juxtaposition to music, films, runway shows and theatre. This exhibition is an immersive experience that literally transports you into the mind and imagination of the late Fashion Icon.
The first gallery you enter is called the Romantic Mind and displays Alexander’s Macqueen’s earliest work, from his 1992 MA Graduate Collection to the unfinished A/W 2010 collection.
The first gallery, an industrial concrete space, is inspired by McQueen’s first Atelier in Hoxton Square. He was a trained Saville Row Tailor and an incredible craftsman. This part of the exhibition pays homage to McQueen’s incredible tailoring talent and his ability to subvert traditional techniques to express his very complex ideas and concepts.
The Second Gallery, Romantic Gothic, is clad in antique mirrors and evokes Edgar Allan Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher. This Gallery showcases items grouped around one of Alexander McQueen’s favourite Themes, the Gothic. A lot of these pieces are inspired by the Victorian Cult of Death and characters such as Vampires, Highwaymen and Byronic Heroes. His Posthumous Collection Angel and Demons shows his engagement with Art History and in particular Flemish painters.
In Romantic Primitivism, the cave-like gallery and heartbeat-like soundtrack gets you blood pumping. A Film by John Maybury is suspended above the gallery.
This film functioned as a backdrop to the collection Irere, which told the story of a women shipwrecked at sea and her evolution from Pirate to Conquistador to Amazonian Goddess.
This gallery showcases items inspired by the contrasting themes of Predator and Prey, the Primitive and the Civilised.
The gallery Romantic Nationalism, reveals Alexander McQueen’s great pride in his Scottish Heritage and his passion for British History and faces. In this gallery the Scottish garments face of against the English ones.
It is interesting to note that only a couple of items from the Highland Rape Collection have been included in the exhibition and that they are spread across the entire exhibition. Highland rape was very provocative back in 1995 when Alexander McQueen first showed.
Many interpreted the collection to symbolise the rape of women. In fact Alexander McQueen intended it to represent the rape of Scotland throughout the Jacobite Rising of the 18th century and the Highland Clearing in the 19th century.
The construction of these clothes is violent, as if slashed by scissors, rather than carefully tailored.
The gallery Romantic Exoticism is designed as a Music Box. Mirrors and Rotating turntables create an endless cycle, infinity.
Alexander McQueen was often inspired by other cultures and in particular by China, India and Japan.
Most of the items in this Gallery are heavily embroidered and use a wide range of pastel colours.
The runway of VOSS, another collection displayed in this gallery, was staged in a two-way mirrored box. The audience was reflected in the glass at the beginning of the show and yet the models could not see out of the box whilst on the catwalk. During the finale the walls of a smaller box within the box came crushing down, to reveal a naked lady surrounded by moths (inspired by a photograph Sanatorium by Joel-Peter Witkin). This smaller box is represented in the gallery and an outtake of the runway is played on an endless cycle.
CABINET OF CURIOSITIES
The Cabinet of Curiosities is at the heart of the exhibition. This gallery refers to the 18th and 19th-century practice of collecting objects of natural history as a way of viewing the world.
The vast amount of pieces on display showcase the breath of Alexander McQueens imagination and the objects that inspired him throughout his career.
This gallery is cumulative summary of all the themes showcased in the exhibition. If you look closely you will find ten iconic pieces of McQueen’s runway shows.
WIDOWS OF CULLODEN
The next gallery is dedicated to the collection Widows of Culloden. The final of the March 2006 Parish Fashion runway saw Kate Moss reveal herself as a life-sized ghostly apparition to the spectators. This hologram can now be viewed at the exhibition and is a truly haunting experience.
Honestly I would recommend Savage Beauty to anyone solely on the basis of this once in a lifetime experience. A variation of the organza dress that Kate is wearing in the Hologram is displayed just outside of the Gallery.
In the Romantic Naturalism Gallery, the walls have been covered in wallpaper. The wallpaper is in fact based on one of Alexander McQueen’s hand sketches.
He loved the natural world and it featured in a many of his garments. Indeed, he thoroughly enjoyed using raw materials to embelish his concepts.
THE LAST COLLECTION
The exhibition culminates with Alexander McQueen’s last fully realised collection, before his death in February 2010.
The room is covered in acrylic tiles and resembles a clinical laboratory. Behind the collection a mesmerising video, puts the visitor in a sort of trance.
The collection represents the contrast between Man and Machine. Alexander McQueen had an incredible way of tapping into our societies anxieties, hopes and aspirations and he streamed his last runway show live, in order to create a dialogue with the public.
MY VERDICT ON SAVAGE BEAUTY AT THE V&A
If you haven’t booked you tickets yet, do it soon, because they are selling fast. The exhibition will be open until the 2nd of August 2015 and is most definitely worth the entry fee.