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Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

The collections at the V&A never fail to intrigue and inspire me. The nation is privileged to have access to such a resource…it’s the sort of place I’d like to be shut in overnight.”

Alexander McQueen

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 Portrait of Alexander McQueen, 1997; Credit:  Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Last week the V&A opened its doors to the only major retrospective in Europe of the work of the visionary fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen. One of the most innovative designers of his generation, McQueen was celebrated for his extraordinary creative talent. He combined a profound grasp of tailoring and eclectic range of influences with a relentless pursuit to challenge the boundaries of art and fashion, blending the latest technology with traditional craftsmanship.In total, the exhibition includes more than 240 ensembles and accessories, the largest number of individual pieces designed by McQueen and collaborations ever seen together. They range from McQueen’s Central Saint Martins’ postgraduate collection of 1992 to his final designs for A/W 2010, completed after his death, and are drawn primarily from the Alexander McQueen archive in London.

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From left to right: 1. Razor clam shells dress, Voss SS2001, Model: Erin O’connor; 2. Butterfly headdress of hand-painted turkey feathers, Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen La Dame Bleu SS2008; 3. Tulle and lace dress with veil and antlers, Widows of Culloden AW2006-07. Images Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Savage Beauty is presented in series of 10 rooms which showcases the dominant themes and concepts within McQueen’s extraordinary body of work. The first section of the exhibition, London, focuses on the raw creativity of three of the designer’s early collections: The Birds (S/S 1995), Highland Rape (A/W 1995) and The Hunger (S/S 1996). Some of the pieces have not been on display since they were originally shown on the catwalk.

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Duck feather dress, The Horn Of Plenty AW 2009-10; Model: Magdalena Frackowiak; Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

McQueen’s skilful subversion of traditional tailoring practices is the focus of Savage Mind. Garments on display demonstrate signature McQueen silhouettes- including that of the ‘Bumster’ trousers- and highlight his innovative cutting techniques.

The interplay between dark and light is explored in Romantic Gothic. McQueen’s frequent references to the Victorian Gothic tradition are particularly drawn out in this section. The display also includes pieces from McQueen’s final, unfinished collection.

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Installation view of Romantic Gothic Gallery, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at V&A; Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

McQueen’s fascination with his Scottish heritage and lifelong passion for nature and the animal world, are explored further in Romantic Primitivism, Romantic Nationalism and Romantic Naturalism. He draws inspiration from nature’s beauty and fragility and experiments with materials such as horn, skin, hair and feathers.

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Installation view of Romantic Primitivism gallery, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at V&A; Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

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Installation view of Cabinet of Curiosities gallery, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at V&A; Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Cabinet Of Curiosities forms the heart of the exhibition and is presented in a double-height gallery. It showcases more than 120 garments and accessories, some produced in collaboration with the milliner Philip Treacy and jewellers such as Shaun Leane and Sarah Harmarnee. Screens show film footage from McQueen’s many catwalk presentations.
A further section in the exhibition is devoted to recreating the spectacular Pepper’s Ghost, which provided a memorable finale to The Widows of Culloden (A/W 2006) catwalk show, where the spectral form of close friend, Kate Moss, appears within a dedicated viewing area.

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Installation view of Plato’s Atlantis gallery, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at V&A; Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum, London

McQueen’s last fully realised collection, Plato’s Atlantis (S/S 2010) is the finale of the exhibition. Set within a futuristic narrative where the ice caps have melted and humanity has had to devolve in order to live under the sea, the dramatically original collection fused McQueen’s interest in nature and technology in what was widely considered his greatest achievement.

Alexander McQueen’s beautiful soul and rebellious spirit are captured incredibly well in the exhibition, leaving viewers mesmerised, inspired and a little emotional. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty is available to see at the V&A London from 14 March – 02 August 2015
www.vam.ac.uk/savagebeauty

Dobrinka Hristova
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Photo credits: Victoria and Albert Museum, London