Ever since we found out that the V&A was set to host the ever illusive Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition we’ve been waiting with baited breath to find out how London, the birthplace and enduring home of the designer, would adapt it for the only major retrospective of his work to grace Europe to this date. Today, our questions were answered.
Originating from the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York – where it became one of the Museum’s most successful exhibitions in history – the London version is set to be bigger and better than the first, expanding up to a third in size and showcasing over 30 additional garments, including a selection lent by private individuals such as Lee McQueen’s friend and colleague Katie England.
Opening with a completely new section that looks at the life of McQueen in London, pieces from his first seven collections will be displayed, including some that haven’t been seen since they were first shown on the catwalk, and the entire exhibition will take inspiration from this formative period when McQueen learnt his skilful and traditional tailoring practices on the street of Savile Row.
“I am thrilled that this magnificent show is coming to London and feel passionately that the V&A is its natural home,” said Director of the V&A Martin Roth. “Lee Alexander McQueen presented his work here during his lifetime and studied the Museum’s wide-ranging public collections of tailoring, painting, art, photography and books as inspiration for his visionary designs.”
Working alongside the V&A are the masterminds behind the Gainsbury and Whiting production company, who can be thanked for helping Alexander McQueen create his awe-inspiring and often mesmerising technologically advanced runway shows. Filtering this aspect of McQueen’s work into every section of the exhibition, one of the most anticipated features will be the recreation of the famous Widows of Culloden (A/W 2006-7) finale where Kate Moss appeared floating as a 3D holographic image in a rippling organza gown.With an entire room dedicated to this phenomenon expect a nearly life size Moss dancing just out of reach.
At the heart of the exhibition we have the Cabinet of Curiosities, showcased in a double-height gallery and featuring footage from nearly every single one of McQueen’s runway shows. Expanding on the Met’s offering in New York, it will display an additional 40 objects including those produced in collaboration with the likes of Philip Treacy and jeweller Shaun Leane. From the embellished matador’s jacket in The Dance of the Twisted Bull (S/S 2002) to a black horned headpiece courtesy of Givenchy (S/S 1997) this is the largest number of individual pieces by the designer to ever be seen together, and viewers can expect to see garments ranging from his earliest post-graduate collection right through to the designs completed after his death in 2010.
Presented in 10 sections, the Museum’s Senior Curator of Fashion, Claire Wilcox focuses in on the key themes and narratives that were consistently present in McQueen’s work. From his early tailoring days through to his Gothic sensibility; a love of the natural and animal worlds; a fascination with his heritage and ancestry and his keen sense of technological innovation, the sections will be built around specific garments that capture these significant concepts.
To close the show we have McQueen’s last fully realised collection, Plato’s Atlantis. (S/S 2010) The first catwalk show to ever be live streamed on the web, this was a futuristic narrative that played to the idea of melted ice caps and an entire humanity that has had to adapt to live under sea. Featuring the towering 30.5cm ‘Armadillo’ shoes, and an army of oceanic creatures clothed in digitally-printed dresses, this collection is widely considered to be McQueen’s greatest achievement. One only wonders what we could have achieved if he were still with us today.
“Savage Beauty is a celebration of the most imaginative and talented designer of our time,” said Sarah Burton, Creative Director of Alexander McQueen. “Lee was a genius and a true visionary who pushed boundaries, challenged and inspired. He believed in creativity and innovation and his talent was limitless.”
Written by Emma Bailey. Images as per caption.