Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

In his last collection before his death in February 2010, Lee Alexander McQueen returned to nature for inspiration. ‘I have always loved the mechanics of nature,’ wrote the designer. Plato’s Atlantis was inspired by Darwin’s 1859 the Origins of Species with a narrative that concerns itself with devolution rather the evolution of mankind.

Here McQueen’s complex, digitally engineered prints, inspired by exotic sea creatures, meet intricate craftsmanship, meet technology, meet the digital age. The collection was streamed live over the internet to entice dialogue between the creator and the consumer.

Plato’s Atlantis is the full expression of McQueen, and it marks the end to an intelligent, theatrical and visually exhilarating exhibition. Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty opens at London’s V&A Museum this week and is a must for anyone with an interest in design.

Fashion exhibitions can often fail to reflect the excitement of the runway – the cloths can look drab and lifeless on the cold mannequin. Here, the museum’s senior curator of fashion, Claire Wilcox, has succeeded in envisaging a seductive narrative that is dark at times, evocative at others, always theatrical and soaking in drama.

She explores McQueen’s incredible craftsmanship and his gift as a tailor. She searches his imagination, his many influences – the cabinet of curiosities room cannot but put a smile on the face – and how he challenged the boundaries of art and fashion.

Few fashion designers have managed to straddle the world of fashion and art. The industry can seem a little shallow at times due to the very nature of the product, its short lifespan and the seemingly vacuous world it inhabits. McQueen really was one exception.

There was something of a contemporary Elsa Schiaparelli about McQueen in the way he infused a sense of fun, an almost surrealist approach, to his work. Yet the clothes were always beautifully crafted and flattering. For him fashion was a performance and catwalks performance art.

The V&A is expanding on the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 2011 collection to feature thirty additional garments, including some rare early pieces; and a new section will focus on McQueen’s fledgling development as a designer in London.

The museum has also acquired 13 photographs by Anne Ray an extraordinary body of work described by McQueen as ‘my life in pictures’ (pictured above). The two formed a close friendship in the 1990s and Ray was granted great freedom to photograph in McQueen’s studio and at his shows with no restrictions.

The resulting photographs capture the energy behind-the-scenes, the intense preparations for each spectacular performance as well as portraits of the designer in reflective and joyous moments.

McQueen was a huge fan of the V&A, saying the collections ‘never fail to intrigue and inspire me… it’s the sort of place I’d like to be shut in overnight,’ a sentiment shared by us.

So it is fitting for this wonderful establishment, one that champions art and design in all its forms and shapes, and is never afraid to be daring, to take on a visionary creative such as McQueen.

Nargess Banks

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, in partnership with Swarovski, is the V&A Museum in London from 14 March – 19 July 2015.

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