‘Savage Beauty’ – Alexander McQueen exhibition at the V&A

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From 14th March – 2nd August, the V&A is graced by the biggest Alexander McQueen exhibition in Europe. Since McQueen committed suicide in 2010, his legendary work has been shipped to and from museums and galleries worldwide, and has been visited by many admirers of McQueen’s work. Now, McQueen’s designs are visiting his hometown, London.

The ‘badboy of high fashion’ is well-known for his grotesque, theatrical designs and his flamboyant attitude. Throughout his life he worked with various designers, brands and fashion icons, designing David Bowie’s tour wardrobe in 1996-7. The exhibition itself, five years after his passing, has drawn thousands to London to see his work.

“Fashion is a bubble, sometimes I feel like popping it.”

Upon entering the pitch-black exhibition, I’m greeted with a giant projection of McQueen’s face. Recordings of his voice boom through speakers – he talks about his life, fashion and work, throwing you into McQueen’s world. The exhibition’s dim lighting seemed to reflect McQueen’s grave sadness towards the end of his life. This mood seems to linger in each room, making the exhibition highly emotive. The viewers of the exhibition, however, seem to contrast this mood. Smiling, laughing, discussing McQueens fabrics and shapes – the bustling crowd seem at home when they are surrounded by high fashion garments.

Each room has a separate theme – from ‘Exotic Romanticism’ to ‘Plato’s Atlantis’, the exhibition takes you on a tour through the years of McQueen’s designs. The clothing reflects his own opinion on his art, which he describes as ‘traditional styles with rule-breaking aspects’: trousers with ripped crotches, horse hair skirts, armadillo boots, even a blazer lined with red silk laced with human hair. I was hypnotised by every dress, coat, bodice and accessory – the complexity of the designs, the bold patterns all were truly mesmerising.

“I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.”

There were several parts of the exhibition that stood out to me. One of which was the ‘Romantic Nationalism’ section which focused on McQueen’s Scottish heritage. The designs indulged in exaggerated silhouettes, lace, crimson reds and traditional tartan patterns which McQueen renamed ‘MacQueen Tartan’.

Another outstanding room was one of a ‘sci-fi’ influence, with mannequins with horns and cave-like brown walls encrusted with plastic bones and skulls. One dress in this room had a skirt made out of horsehair. Another outfit – a leather bodice – had two small crocodile heads in the place of shoulder pads, their tiny mouths stretched open aggressively.

One room had a ‘futuristic’ theme which replayed videos of catwalk shows. These were interesting as they showed you McQueen’s designs as he envisioned them. One hunched-over model wore a metal square attached to her arms and legs: the disturbing accessories and the model’s insect-like actions reminded me of the beetle protagonist in Kafka’s ‘The Metamorphosis’.

“I find beauty in the grotesque.”

This exhibition contrasts highly with the V&A’s more traditional ceramics and sculpture galleries – it is daring, modern and racy. The well-designed exhibition space suits McQueen’s style and helps give an insight into his work and life. Thanks to visual supports, sound effects and telling quotes scattered around the exhibition, you’ll not only be seeing McQueen’s designs, you’ll be hearing them, feeling them, even living them.

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, in partnership with Swarovski, supported by American Express, with thanks to M∙A∙C Cosmetics, technology partner Samsung and made possible with the co-operation of Alexander McQueen, runs from 14th March – 2nd August 2015. Tickets from £17.60. Photo courtesy of V&A. www.vam.ac.uk/savagebeauty

By Abi Lofthouse