Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty – Review

Now playing: “Monster” by Kanye West feat. Rick Ross, Jay Z, Nicki Minaj & Bon Iver

 

(Note: I would’ve added pictures to give you a visualisation, only I wasn’t allowed to take any ūüė¶ )

Okay, so I could easily write a 1000-word in-depth walkthrough about this exhibition. It is by far – by FAR – the best exhibition I have ever been to.

As you enter the most talked-about and most-coveted exhibition of the year at London’s V&A museum, you are greeted by¬†the holographic face of the late Alexander McQueen, looming over you, flickering ¬†– a visual of his legacy.

Upon entering the first room,¬†you could instantly insinuate that¬†the exhibition¬†is a biographical walkthrough of¬†McQueen’s fascination with the savage beauty of the natural world.¬†The first room went back to his roots as an apprentice on Savile Row, faceless mannequins modelling his impeccable tailoring skills in his more understated creations – simplistic yet technically advanced.

From then on, the transition from room to room was seamless yet transitional. The mannequins were dressed so exquisitely that they were almost terrifying;¬†dehumanised by studded gold¬†masks that entrapped their faces, you couldn’t help but feel intimidated yet¬†awe-struck as they towered over you.

Another room embodied a juxtaposition between monarchy and anarchy; on one side of the room, mannequins adorned in lavish, decadent and incredibly ornate gold and red, and on the opposite side, mannequins dressed in tartan Рtwo opposing sides, ready to go to war. This was heightened by the thematic use of red in these designs Рred, a colour often used by McQueen, was reinvented to connotate violence and nothing but.

Plastered on walls were quotes from him, allowing you to pause and reflect, such as: “I find beauty in the grotesque, like most artists. I have to force people to look at things.” Quotes like these let you in to¬†McQueen’s provocative and imaginative mind.

One of the most memorable parts of the exhibition was walking into a room that felt like a cabinet of curiosities; from the floor to the ceiling were some of McQueen’s finest and most coveted artefacts, and television screens were embedded across the walls, televising that his shows were not merely fashion shows but works of performance art. You could feel the emotional intensity in the room, accompanied by¬†the twittering of birds, robotic talk and the eerie sing-song of a woman…a chilling combination. It was overwhelming and atmospheric. You could spend ages studying a single artefact, lost in fascination, only to return to it for more.

I was awe-struck by the sheer creativity of the paraphernalia¬†in the room, creations that broke the boundaries of fashion. It felt as though you were in a wardrobe – a surreal escape from reality into fantasy (I had two portfolio deadlines for the next day [students, you get me right], and for the two and a half hours I spent in the exhibition, I didn’t think about them once). It was an emporium of the strange and wonderful, ethereal and other-worldly – and for moments, I felt alienated from my surroundings. I didn’t want to leave the room.

Mannequins rotated in their enclosures, offering a 360 view of the designer’s masterpieces, often fetishistic one-off creations.¬†Artefacts included an assortment of opulent headdresses, dresses made purely of feathers, and of course – those Armadillo heels (aka those crazy shoes Lady Gaga wore in the Bad Romance video); and in the centre of the room, rotating slowly, was¬†THAT DRESS,¬†one of McQueen’s most iconic and notorious moments in fashion: model Shalom Harlow¬†stood on a circular platform, a human canvas attacked with paint by two mechanical robots in the Spring / Summer 1999¬†No. 13¬†collection.

 

Just when I thought it was over, I entered yet another room that captured McQueen’s obsessive fixation on fantasy, the mannequins pivoting to the sound of windchimes. Oriental shantungs in pretty pastels; one mannequin wore an American football helmet and shoulder padding, showing McQueen’s unparalleled ability to cross-reference.

Another installation re-enacted McQueen’s SS 2001 show – the models were trapped in a mirrored glass box, in which those on the outside could see in but they could not see out. The garments worn by the models were heavily exoticised – a blood-red glass and ostrich feather dress.

The next room revolved around the theme of romantic naturalism – a long-sleeved dress made entirely of tiny intricate pheasant feathers, the skirt tiered almost like the wing of a bird. Adjacent was a stunning razor clam shell dress.

Erin O'Connor in VOSS, SS 2001
Erin O’Connor in VOSS, SS 2001
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Pheasant feather dress in VOSS, SS 2001

 

Words and pictures alone won’t¬†do¬†Savage Beauty justice. I’d happily go again – one viewing was not enough to take everything in – and of course I’d recommend it to all.¬†Long live Alexander the Great.

thestylebanks x

 

 

 

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