I escalate between life and death, happiness and sadness, good and evil.
The Victoria and Albert Museum’s Savage Beauty comes as Alexander McQueen’s first and largest retrospective in Europe, and is by far one of the most spectacular exhibitions in London this year. The late designer’s revolutionary vision shines blazingly bright through his vast collection of ground-breaking designs. Beginning with his earliest tailor work and his 1992 MA graduate collection, the display see’s McQueen’s most celebrated designs, leading visitors through a fashionista time warp right up until his final unfinished collection of Autumn/Winter 2010. This exhibition is an exquisite trailblazer presenting the magnificent talent of Alexander McQueen and his incredible abilities to combine the beautiful with the morbidly dark.
Noted as a hero-artist, McQueen was very much a romanticist. Whether it be Romantic Gothic, Romantic Nationalism or Romantic Exoticism, McQueen was making the most innovative designs of the 21st century with a dreamy calling to romanticism. His use of feathers, fur, horns and beaks refer to the artist’s fascination with primitivism which he then transformed into the grandiose with crystals, delicate beading and luxurious silk each adorning different designs. McQueen connects his primitive work to the earth but then heightens them to a pedal stool with regal detailing and radical display methods, particularly through his theatrical cat walks on the runway.
Each room of the exhibition is darkened and spotlighted with magnificent small details down to a T. Music blares dramatically from room to room, ranging from melancholic violin scores to deep and dark beats echoing those primal and violent aspects of McQueen’s practice. The display and curation of Savage Beauty is one to be envious of as a curator myself. It is equally elegant as it is hard-hitting and intense. Some mannequins twirl gracefully whilst others stand strong and dominating, facing forward looking down on visitors who cluster around its feet.
The Cabinet of Curiosities is a particularly impressive room within the exhibition. With cabinets toppled high up to the ceiling containing both half and full mannequins draped in McQueen’s gorgeous designs, and with delicate quill head pieces and dizzyingly high high-heels this room could be an exhibition in itself. Side by side the visionary artist’s designs are televisions presenting his famously theatrical catwalk shows, some snowing with ice-skating models and some walking through fire and water unfazed by the obscurity of it all in the name of fashion. At the centre of the room, probably my favourite McQueen piece, the Spray Painted Dress (1999) whirling around in full glory with a video alongside showing off its radical method of design.
We also see Kate Moss in miniature in this exhibition, posing as an ethereal figure in a mirrored box – reminiscent of A Muppet’s Christmas Carol’s Ghost of Christmas Past. The ghostly white dress floats around Moss, as if she is suspended or floating under water where she finds herself in front of viewers as an eerie, futuristic hologram.
Finally the exhibition finishes with several rooms of wonderment, where mirror ornamented cabinets hold mannequins wearing McQueen’s romantic exoticism series. Japanese kimonos become enchanting translations into creative culture, redesigned American rugby suits become high-end silk designs – helmet and all. This deeply and darkly romantic display leads into the concluding wondrous display of McQueen’s final collection: Plato’s Atlantis. This series of work explores the natural sublime through a mythological story of human society adapting to underwater life. The hypnotising display shows off stormy, starry designs each embellished with reflective aquatic prints and set upon a plinth of McQueen’s infamously dangerous Armadillo Heels. This final display is presented with a dreamily turbulent film as the backdrop, merging mermaidesque models with tempestuous underwater imagery.
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty is an outstanding exhibition. By far the best exhibition I have seen in London since the New Year, The Victoria and Albert have captured the magical, fairy-tale consciousness McQueen wanted to impose on fashion houses in the 21st century. McQueen’s designs continue to charmingly haunt British fashion culture, setting a high bar for what’s to come next. An absolute visionary who was a deeply sad loss to the fashion world, Alexander McQueen has been done justice in this glorious exhibition of Savage Beauty.
The display is on show at the Victoria and Albert Museum in South Kensington until the 2 August 2015 – be sure to book your ticket now so you don’t miss out!