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Fashion and Designers / Ffasiwn a Dylunwyr

Review: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

(October 01, 2015)

Review: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty
Victoria and Albert Museum, London; 14 March-2 August 2015

Installation view of  'Romantic Nationalism' gallery, Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum London
Installation view of Romantic Nationalism gallery,
Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A
Image
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Enfant terrible of fashion, Lee Alexander McQueen's catwalk collections excited, shocked and intrigued, but always lit up the fashion world during his all-too-brief career. Whether he created art or fashion, his work is enthralling and timeless.

Often drawing inspiration from his Scottish heritage (asked in a 2004 Guardian interview, "What do your Scottish roots mean to you?", McQueen answered; "Everything."), McQueen frequently referenced Scottish history and used his family tartan, both personally and in his work, including his Highland Rape (autumn/winter 1995) and The Widows of Culloden (autumn/winter 2006) collections. His ashes are scattered on the Isle of Skye.

Alexander McQueen, at his Fall 2009 collection
Lee Alexander McQueen in 2009

The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, staged Savage Beauty in 2011, a little over a year after McQueen had taken his own life aged 40; just days after his mother's death. Over 650,000 people saw the exhibition celebrating McQueen's extraordinary contribution to fashion; the museum's most popular ever fashion exhibit.

Savage Beauty transferred to the V&A, London this year; showing between March and August to record numbers. Nearly half a million visitors saw the show during its 21-week run. Issy Herring was among those lucky enough to secure a ticket, attending on 17 July …

Installation view of  'Cabinet of Curiosities' gallery, Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum London
Installation view of Cabinet of Curiosities gallery,
Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A
Image
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty begins at the beginning. The first room displays his initial fashion collection, completed during 1992, the last year of his MA course. This compilation is a set mainly of minimalistic and timeless formalwear pieces. It seems as though McQueen gathered his inspiration from military uniform. His talent as a pattern cutter is discernible here; a skill mastered whilst working in Savile Row. However, this was no indication of what was to come: his Voss collection, created for his 2001 Spring/Summer catwalk show.


Installation view of 'Voss', Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum London
Installation view of Voss,
Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A
Image
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London


Installation view of 'Voss', Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum London
Installation view of Voss,
Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A
Image
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Lighting in the next room was noticeably dimmer. The Romantic Gothic gallery featured several more inventive pieces by McQueen, using more selective materials such as bird feathers. This seems to be his more 'neo-romantics' inspired collection, as a lot of the dresses and skirts had a slim-fitting, straight style, and used lighter, thinner fabrics, such as chiffon. The majority of the pieces were also in pale colours.

Installation view of  'Romantic Gothic' gallery, Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum London
Installation view of Romantic Gothic gallery,
Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A
Image
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The third room exhibited a set of fashion pieces that also looked as though they may have been inspired by neo-romanticism, as well as by the ocean and seascapes; a mix of subtle and dramatic pieces. The Romantic Primitivism gallery's room setting was very intriguing in the dim lighting - the staging for the garments looked initially as though it was made from discarded driftwood, but was set in and around McQueen's trademark human skulls and bones. The ossuary setting was very fitting; ironically, making the collection come to life.
 

Installation view of  'Romantic Primitivism' gallery, Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum London
Installation view of Romantic Primitivism gallery,
Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A
Image
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Next is a small, darkened room with nothing but a large screen in front of you. A hologram of supermodel Kate Moss spinning around gradually appears; shown originally as part of McQueen's Autumn/Winter 2006-7 collection. All very impressive; making you feel you could not take your eyes off the screen and had to keep watching. The image only lasts a couple of minutes.

The fifth room's garments were different to the other rooms, with their initial use of clashing, vivid colours and pattern. The Romantic nationalism gallery was one of my favourite sections of the exhibition, due to the whole vintage feel, which is truly inspirational. Materials here include tulle and tartan, making the collection visually exciting and varied. This section is fully lit, reflecting the intended mood of the pieces well. An interesting background-setting resembles an old, country mansion house; its fittings, the immaculate polished staging and the spotlights capturing each piece perfectly. At the opposite end of this room, a heavyweight magenta pink garment holds centre stage, the mannequin wearing a gold encrusted mask over its face.

Installation view of  'Romantic Nationalism' gallery, Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum London
Installation view of Romantic Nationalism gallery,
Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A
Image
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Installation view of  'Romantic Nationalism' gallery, Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum London
Installation view of Romantic Nationalism gallery,
Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A
Image
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The following gallery, the Cabinet of Curiosities, is the most impressive. The staging for all of the different McQueen pieces consists of a shelf-style set-up, each piece shown in an individual section of the shelf. The exhibits on display were included in McQueen's catwalk collections, and are seen in footage playing on television screens dotted around the room; all visually effective. This section included some of his more outlandish work. The pieces could have been spaced out more and are not in any particular order. They are not defined within colour schemes, making it almost too much to absorb when walking through this room.
 

Installation view of  'Cabinet of Curiosities' gallery, Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum London
Installation view of Cabinet of Curiosities gallery,
Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A
Image
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The penultimate section of the exhibition comprises a collection based upon romanticism. However, this did not get repetitive, as each of the pieces were selected to be dissimilar to ones seen previously, even though they seem to show pieces of similar colour. Some of the garments featured in this room convey the inspiration of Victorian dress, due to their corseted bodices and flared skirts. The garments also tend to have light-coloured floral embroidery sewn onto them, giving a 1950s feel. The setting for this section is of a more modern style than those in previous sections.
 

Installation view of  'Romantic Naturalism' gallery, Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum London
Installation view of Romantic Naturalism gallery,
Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A
Image
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The final part of the exhibition consists of garments featured in McQueen's Plato's Atlantis Spring/Summer 2010 fashion collection. This selection of garments was clearly inspired by insects, mainly butterflies and their wing patterns. In terms of pattern and colour, this was my favourite section. It was very thought provoking and the uniform appearance of the mannequins make the room perfect.
 

Installation view of  'Platos Atlantis' gallery, Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A © Victoria and Albert Museum London
Installation view of Plato's Atlantis gallery,
Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A
Image
© Victoria and Albert Museum, London

As a whole, I really enjoyed my time at the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition. It is both visually dynamic and inspirational. Claire Wilcox (the exhibition curator) and the V&A deserve praise, as it is very effective. I am just sad that I had to leave and was not able to come back and look at it the next day! I would definitely recommend visiting if it transfers anywhere else. Definitely a worthwhile trip!

And in answer to the question 'Were his creations art or fashion?' Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty shows they were both.

Isabelle Herring, October 2015

If you liked this, you will enjoy these from Isabelle too:
     New York Fashion Week F/W 2016; March 2016

     bloggers and vloggers; December 2015

     Festival essentials; June 2015

     New York Fashion Week F/W 2015; March 2015

     Does size really matter?; December 2014
     Looking for value?; September 2014

Isabelle blogs on fashion as Isabelle Rachel!

… and her other pages:
     Facebook: issy.herring
     Blog Facebook page: isabellerachelblog
     Twitter: @IssyHerring
     Instagram: issyherring
     Pinterest: issyherring

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