Thursday, 9 July 2015

ALEXANDER MCQUEEN: SAVAGE BEAUTY AT THE V&A

I've seen Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A three times and I'm hoping to get to the show once more before it closes on 2nd August 2015. It's such an exciting show and I've discovered something new each time I've visited.

Savage Beauty has been described as Alexander McQueen's homecoming and we are lucky to have such an amazing exhibition on our doorstep.


Here's an edited version of the speech the V&A's Senior Curator of Fashion, Claire Wilcox, made at the Press opening of the exhibition:



'Alexander McQueen was one of the most influential designers of his generation. His radical and fearless vision changed the way we look at fashion. He provoked with his bumster trousers, he astonished with his dresses made from hand painted glass and razor clam shells, he shocked with his powerful and spectacular catwalk shows that were characterised by a love of storytelling.


Although bold and subversive with his ideas, everything McQueen did was rooted in craftsmanship of the highest level. As you probably know the original version of Savage Beauty took place at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2011. It was brilliantly curated by Andrew Bolton, Curator of the Costume Institute, who is also a consultant curator on this exhibition.   


Portrait of Alexander McQueen, 1997. Photographed by Marc Hom
© Marc Hom/Trunk Archive


Savage beauty at the V&A is the largest and most ambitious fashion exhibition the museum has ever staged. 240 garments and accessories are presented in a series of displays, which engage with the key themes of McQueen's work. These include his subversive tailoring, gothic sensibility, Victorian London and Scottish anscestary. Above all, they reflect his fascination with the natural world. 

We are pleased to have been able to add to the curation 66 additional garments and accessories, some of which have never been displayed since being first shown on the catwalk, such as the white feathered gown in the Cabinet of Curiosities room, plus the Horn of Plenty and the Titanic dress from Plato’s Atlantis, slowly rotating in the same gallery.

In the Cabinet of Curiosities, you are also surrounded by 27 screens showing footage from many of McQueen’s catwalk shows. Although remarkably talented himself, McQueen also recognized talent in others and collaborated widely with a swathe of other designers and craftsmen. From fashion photographer Nick Knight to hat designer Philip Treacy and jeweller Shaun Leane. All of them helped to realise the entirety of McQueen’s creative vision. You can see many examples of Philip’s and Shaun’s work in this gallery. We are particularly grateful to the designers for recreating some very special pieces, for example Shaun Leane’s yashmak, which has been completely remade, and Philip Treacy’s Chinese garden headpiece.


Spray painted dress, Alexander McQueen, No 13, S/S 1999
Model: Shalom Harlow
Image: Catwalking

Tahitian pearl and silver neckpiece, Shaun Leane for
Alexander McQueen, 
Voss, S/S 2001
Model: Karen Elson
© Anthea Simms


 'I spent a long time learning to construct clothes, which is important to do before you can deconstruct them.'
Alexander McQueen


Tulle and lace dress with veil and antlers, Alexander McQueen,
Widows of Culloden, A/W 2006-07
Model: Raquel Zimmerman, VIVA London
Image: firstVIEW

London was at the heart of McQueen’s world, he was born there, he became a tailor’s apprentice on Saville Row and attended Central St Martin’s where he completed an MA in Fashion Design in 1992. He also established his fashion label there. The V&A also had a long history of working with McQueen. In 1999 he became the second designer to take part in Fashion in Motion, a series of live catwalk shows in the museum, to bring live, time-based fashion to the V&A's galleries. 

The V&A worked with him again in 2001 for the Radical Fashion exhibition. McQueen frequently researched the V&A’s Fashion and Textile Collections and I have many good memories of showing him examples from our Victorian tailoring to whitework. He had books from the V&A and I think I spotted some of our postcards on his workboards. It’s fair to say that he loved and admired the V&A. In fact he once said that the collections of the V&A never failed to intrigue and inspire him, saying it was the sort of place he’d like to be shut in overnight.'

 


Bird's Nest headdress with Swarovski gemstones. Philip Treacy and 
Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen, Widows of Culloden, A/W 2006
Model: Snejana Onopka
Image: Courtesy Swarovski Archive

Dress of dyed ostrich feathers and hand-painted microscopic slides,
Alexander McQueen, Voss, S/S 2001
Model: Erin O'Connor
Image: REX

Jellyfish ensemble and Armadillo shoes, Alexander McQueen, 
Plato's Atlantis, A/W 2009. Model: Polina Kasina
© Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE

Duck feather dress, Alexander McQueen, The Horn of Plenty, A/W 2009-10
Model: Magdalena Frackowiak
Image: firstVIEW


Butterfly headdress of hand-painted turkey feathers, Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen, 

La Dame Bleue, S/S 2008. Model: Alana Zimmer

Image: © Anthea Simms

'I find beauty in the grotesque, like most artists. I have to force people to look at things.' Alexander McQueen




Jacket, Alexander McQueen, It's a Jungle out there, A/W 1997-8
Image: firstVIEW

Alexander McQueen, It's Only a Game, S/S 2005
Image: firstVIEW


Romantic Gothic gallery

Cabinet of Curiosities gallery

Voss gallery


'There's no way back for me now. I'm going to take you on journeys you've never dreamed were possible.' 
Alexander McQueen


Plato's Atlantis gallery

Cabinet of Curiosities gallery - Swarovski crystal and stretch synthetic Bell Jar dress,
Natural Dis-tinction S/S 2009


Romantic Nationalism gallery

Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen wood and coral headpiece for
The Girl Who Lived In The Tree A/W 2008


Silver and Swarovski crystal Star headpiece, Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen,
In Memory of Elizabeth How A/W 2007

Silver and Swarovski crystal Crescent Moon headpiece, Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen,
In Memory of Elizabeth How A/W 2007

Painted resin and net boots embroidered with Swarovski crystals
and metal thread, A/W 2010

Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen Bird's Nest headpiece for
The Widows of Culloden A/W 2006

Silver-plated metal rose corset, Givenchy Haute Couture S/S 2000,
Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen

Armadillo boot, Plato's Atlantis S/S 2010

The silk organza dress from the Widows of Culloden A/W 2006 collection worn by
Kate Moss in the mesmerising Pepper's Ghost illusion that ended the show and is
recreated at the Savage Beauty exhibition

  

Close-up from the Romantic Naturalism gallery  - hessian dress with
floral embroidery and silk organza detail

'Fashion can be really racist, looking at the clothes of other cultures as costumes. That's mundane and it's old hat. Let's break down some barriers.' Alexander McQueen



Dress with hand painted microscope slides bodice and dyed ostrich
feather skirt, Voss S/S 2001

Romantic Naturalism gallery - silk dress embellished with fresh and silk flowers,
Sarabande S/S 2007

Silk and lace dress with resin antler headdress, Widows of Culloden A/W 2006

Cabinet of Curiosities Gallery

Gold metal and silk thread embroidered wrap dress with sash,
What a Merry Go Round A/W 2001

Feathered fitted jacket and embroidered silk organza shirt (left) from Alexander McQueen's
final collection, Angels and Demons A/W 2010






EXHIBITION DETAILS: 

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, in partnership with Swarovski, supported by American Express and made possible with the co-operation of Alexander McQueenruns until 
2 August 2015. www.vam.ac.uk/savagebeauty

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