[dropcap]A[/dropcap]lmost a year ago, I excitedly booked tickets to the Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition, having envied the city of New York over their dibs on it first. I’ve been a big fan of McQueen and his gothic, sometimes macabre but always rock and roll aesthetic. During my artier days gone by, I had sketchbooks fit to burst with paint and charcoal textures, clippings and sketches to show the thought process behind my final pieces- I couldn’t wait to learn more about the work behind his designs, and the processes and inspiration that created them. So there we were, on a Sunday afternoon, battling through the crowds inside the South Kensington tunnel towards the V&A…
“London’s where I was brought up. It’s where my heart is and where I get my inspiration.”
– Alexander McQueen, January 2000
They don’t allow any photography within the exhibition, not even a sketchbook! However, a lot of care and attention has been put together to capture the same mood and feel within a room to reflect the runway spectacle it once came from. There’s work from his MA graduate collection all the way up to his more recent work before his death in 2010. Quotes from McQueen are written across walls in every room; by the military style coats (for Isabella Blow), to the tartan and feather dresses in the Romantic Nationalism room. Halfway through the exhibition you’ll come to the Cabinet of Curiosities, a room stocked from floor to ceiling with dresses and accessories, including my personal favourite- this Bird’s Nest head dress as a collaboration with Philip Treacy, a mussel shell dress, impossibly tall Armadillo heels, and in the midst of it all a rotating spray painted dress worn by Shalom Harlow in 1999:
Some of his dresses, especially this white one with the horns and ruffles, reminds me of the chimaera creatures in the Daughter of Smoke and Bone books by Laini Taylor. Beautiful, eerie, a little bit gothic and dreamlike.
At one point in the exhibit, you’ll walk into a dark room with a glass pyramid in the middle. Get as close to it as you can, and stay to watch the ethereal spectacle that is a ghostly Kate Moss twirling in a dress from the 2006 Widows of Culloden Autumn/Winter collection.
I loved the chance to get up close to see the intricate embroideries of some of his pieces and the detail that went into each one. Human hair in the lining of the jackets of his earlier work, the flowers and birds embroidered and individually stitched onto fabric and cut into beautiful kimono jackets, the textures from nature- sometimes reptilian, sometimes delicate feathering, but always stunning in real life.
There are still tickets available to the exhibition; if you avoid the popular times, there are plenty of slots in the early morning or evenings, especially during the week. You can get them here.
I’ll continue to squirrel away my pennies for an Alexander McQueen bag, but in the meantime, my little leather and gold skull bracelet will be appreciated a whole lot more! I’d definitely recommend taking a look in the gift shop afterwards to pick up some souvenirs; there are gorgeous hardback books on Alexander McQueen at a discounted price (£25 instead of £35) and I picked up the larger khaki tote bag with a skull emblazoned on the front, as well as some postcards from the collection (£1 each or £8.50 for 15)
The show runs until the 2nd of August this year; it’s definitely worth paying a visit!
‘You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition.’