Alexander McQueen: Savage beauty

31/03/2015

Karen Elson wearing Tahitian pearl & silver neckpiece by Shaun Lean for Alexander McQueen "Voss" Spring/Summer 2001 collection photographed by Anthea Simms / Savage Beauty exhibition review / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Back in 2000 Colin McDowell wrote that "if it were possible to create the tune of a dress, the whole world would be whistling Gaultier, Galliano and McQueen", the three greatest designers from the younger pack, the romantic rule-breakers whose work would shape the future of the 21st century fashion...

I agreed with everything, but the song part. For me McQueen would never be just a song...

He would be an opera, La Traviata, the story of love, life and death, the story that makes your heart bleed because it's too much to bear.

"I try and modify fashion like a scientist by offering what is relevant to today and what will continue to be so tomorrow." Alexander McQueen

I found myself in London on the day of the solar eclipse, walking down the familiar streets under the milky sky, from Victoria to Victoria & Albert museum, the place I could happily live in. The date was purely coincidental - I booked my ticket for the Savage Beauty a year ago, as soon as they became available. That morning it felt like a sign, something rather mysterious... Somehow I thought it was very McQueen, the irresistible power of nature and the surreal beauty created by human mind, combined.

The door swung open inviting me into a completely dark room where I was guided by a dim light streaming from around the corner. It was a very odd sensation of temporarily blindness that made me even more aware of the sounds that filled the space - the distant echo-like voice of Alexander McQueen and snippets of his shows projected onto one of the walls. Hearing him was similar to listening to cosmonauts speaking to Earth from space. Blame in on my imagination, but I almost saw McQueen talking to us from another dimension, as if his spirit was visiting the place he loved.

Installation view of "London" / Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition / Victoria & Albert Museum London / via fashioned by love british fashion blog
The exhibition was divided into several spaces with the first one, "London", focusing on tailoring and showcasing his Savile Row and St Martins works. As if I was in a dream, I saw the designs from The Birds (S/S 1995), Highland rape (A/W 1995), and The Hunger (S/S 1996), some of them displayed for the very first time since appearing on the catwalk... Some of the mannequins "wore" the shoes made of soles and sellotape replicating earlier designs DIY'ed by Katy England for the Birds.



One of the tops from the 1992 "Jack the Ripper Stalks his victims" collection had that famous lock of McQueen's own hair held between the layers of acrylic, stitched onto the back of the garment - a signature label inspired by the Victorian times, women murdered by the serial killer and locks of hair changed by lovers (who often bought the strands of prostitutes instead of cutting their own).

"I spent a lot of time learning how to construct clothes, which is important to do before you deconstruct them." Alexander McQueen

Installation view of "savage mind" / Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition / Victoria & Albert Museum London / via fashioned by love british fashion blog
Next was the "Savage mind" showcasing signature McQueen silhouettes including the low-cut "Bumster" trousers I vividly remembered because I found that design both rather fabulous and provoking. I stood there, amazed once again, wondering what kind of skill it would take to design something so unique and so... anti-gravity.

I circled around the room trying to absorb and memorise everything, and then moved on led by the distant sound of Handel's Sarabande.

"People find my things sometimes aggressive. But I don't see it as aggressive, I see it as romantic, dealing with the dark side of my personality." Alexander McQueen

The rest of the exhibition was divided between several spaces named "Romantic Gothic", "Romantic Primitivism", "Romantic Nationalism", "Romantic Naturalism" and "Romantic Exorcism" reflecting a certain mood rather than showcasing a particular collection.

Installation view of "romantic gothic" / Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition / Victoria & Albert Museum London / via fashioned by love british fashion blog
The "Romantic Gothic" room was what I've always remembered of the McQueen exhibition at the MET - photos of the display, the gold feather gown and four other designs from the Fall/Winter 2010-2011 collection unofficially entitled Angels & Demons and completed by Sarah Burton after McQueen's death. Now they were real, standing there before my eyes. Each cut and made individually combining the traditional artisanal skills with the latest technology. The prints for the collection were inspired by the old masters, then scanned and digitally woven into jacquard fabrics.

Installation view of "romantic gothic" / Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition / Victoria & Albert Museum London / via fashioned by love british fashion blog
Alexander McQueen "Supercalifragilisticexpiadocious" Fall/Winter 2002 collection, 6. Alexander McQueen "The Horn of Plenty" Fall/Winter 2009 collection / via fashioned by love british fashion blog / Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition London
Installation view of "romantic gothic" / Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition / Victoria & Albert Museum London / via fashioned by love british fashion blog
But despite all the grandeur and incredible craft, it was the room of shadows and darkness. Not only because the rest of the looks were mainly black, the masks that smiled at me through their zipper mouth in a sadomasochistic sort of way, or the black feather ensemble from The Horn of Plenty collection that stood over me like a raven. It simply felt like death re-visiting. Glorious, but terrifying.

"I escalate between life and death, happiness and sadness, good and evil." Alexander McQueen

Next was "the grotto" as I called it. The "Romantic Primitivism" highlighting McQueen fascination with tribalism and nature, the designs combined "modern and primitive, civilized and uncivilised."

Installation view of "romantic primitivism" / Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition / Victoria & Albert Museum London / via fashioned by love british fashion blog
Here, in a small space confined by the walls covered in bones and skulls, the designs from the "Irere" (Spring/Summer 2003),  "It's a jungle out there" (Fall/Winter 1997-1998) and "Eshu" (Fall/Winter 2000-2001) talk to you on an intuitive level even before you learn their names - you see the shipwrek and the torn clothes covered in mud, you see the tribal influences, the connection with nature.

A yellow bead and horse hair dress from the "Eshu" Fall/Winter 2001-2002 collection / Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty Exhibition Victoria & Albert museum London / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
A yellow bead and horse hair dress and laser cut and metal work gown from the "Eshu" Fall/Winter 2001-2002 collection / Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty Exhibition Victoria & Albert museum London / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Silk and leather dress from the "Eshu" Fall/Winter 2001-2002 collection / Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty Exhibition Victoria & Albert museum London / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Dresses inspired by a shipwreck, pirates and Amazonian Indians from the Spring/Summer 2003. Dresses in printed silks that resemble a bird of paradise. Dresses made of black horsehair or embroiled with glass beads, jackets adorned with antelope horns or taxidermy crocodile heads... Leather dress of a laser cut crinoline draped around a metal wire... An "Oyster" made of layers and layers of delicate silk organza...



Look up - and you will see a shipwrek survivor floating inside a glass "bubble" as if you are watching the ocean from a submarine - a film created by John Maybury of a drowning girl in a torn chiffon dress used for the "Irere" Spring/Summer 2003 show inspired by the water world, Roland Joffe's 1986 film "Mission" and the idea of transformation ("irene" means "transformation" in one of the Amazonian languages).

Alexander McQueen "Irere" Spring/Summer 2003 collection via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Alexander McQueen "Irere" Spring/Summer 2003 collection via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Alexander McQueen "Irere" Spring/Summer 2003 collection via fashioned by love British fashion blog
"It needs to connect with earth. Things that are processed and reprocessed lose their substance." Alexander McQueen

"From the boat to the ball" as Pushkin wrote in Eugene Onegin I found myself in a grand hall lit by the candlelight. The Sarabande (used for the Spring/Summer 2007 collection and also, curiously, the name of the McQueen's charity) pulsated in the background. This room represented Scotland, the place that not only in the designer's genes, but also the land he was immensely inspired by. I think it was the juxtaposition between the dark past of Scotland and its natural beauty and heritage that spoke to McQueen's sole and triggered his mind into producing the Highland Rape and Widows of Culloden, diving into the turbulent times of the eighteens century Jacobite Risings and the nineteenth century Highland Clearances. Paying a tribute to Scottish heritage, and for the very first time, McQueen used the MacQueen tartan when designing the Widows of Culloden Fall/Winter 2006 collection.



The last few dresses in the room were from The Girl Who Lived in the Tree from the Autumn/Winter 2008... Those were the home-comings, inspired by the history of England, a tree the McQueen family had in their East Sussex garden, and a story of a fairy who decided to come down to earth and turned into a princess.

"Romantic Nationalism" installation featuring the Widows of Culloden Fall/Winter 2006 dresses / via fashioned by love british fashion blog / Alexander Mcqueen Savage Beauty fashion exhibition Victoria&Albert Museum London
Details of Alexander McQueen "The Widows of Culloden" Fall/Winter 2006 collection / Savage Beauty Alexander McQueen / Victoria&Albert Museum / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Details of Alexander McQueen "The Widows of Culloden" Fall/Winter 2006 collection / Savage Beauty Alexander McQueen / Victoria&Albert Museum / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Alexander McQueen "The Widows of Culloden" Fall/Winter 2006 collection & "The Girl Who Lived in the Tree" Fall/Winter 2008 collection / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Details of Alexander McQueen "The Girl Who Lived in the Tree" Fall/Winter 2008 collection
Details of Alexander McQueen "The Girl Who Lived in the Tree" Fall/Winter 2008 collection
"Romantic Nationalism" installation featuring the Widows of Culloden Fall/Winter 2006 dresses / via fashioned by love british fashion blog / Alexander Mcqueen Savage Beauty fashion exhibition Victoria&Albert Museum London
There was a moment when I suddenly thought that the colour appeared in McQueen collections a lot more when he was showing his most vulnerable side, hidden emotions. The black somehow always seemed strong, like a protective shield, where as the colour exposed hidden emotions and heartache. Perhaps, it's only my imagination... Maybe it was also the music that I've always turned to whenever my own heart was in shreds.



I heard a woman's voice behind my back speaking Russian... "Why did you do it to yourself, dear boy", she was talking to herself. "How incredible you were..." This absolutely finished me off, I stood there trying not to cry, then swallowed the lump in my throat and walked out...

Shalom Harlow wearing the spray painted dress from the No. 13 Spring/Summer 1999 collection via Catwalking / Savage Beauty exhibition Victoria & Albert Museum London / fashioned by love british fashion blog
The cabinet of curiosities was for me, as Nietzsche once put it "a casual stroll through the lunatic asylum"... It was an intense and overwhelming dive into the world of McQueen. The room felt like a box, or a cabinet, with the dress once worn by Shalom Harlow in the middle and the walls housing all sorts of objects, from headdresses from the Widows of Culloden and The Girl who lives in the Tree, arm and neck pieces from Dante and silver plated shoulder pieces from Voss and the Pantheon Ad Lucem, the shoes from Irene and Plato's Atlantis (that Armadillo boot that caused such a stir!) to the dresses and entire ensembles.

installation view of "Cabinet of Curiosities" gallery / Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibition London / Victoria & Albert Museum / V&A / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
There were hats and bags, earrings and bracelets, body suits and even prosthetic leg from the No. 13 1999 collection. No longer it was about the tune of the Sarabande - I was surrounded by so many sounds that my head began to spin.

Gemma Ward wearing the silk chiffon dress from "The Widows as Culloden" Fall/Winter 2006 collection used for the Kate Moss Hologram / Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty Exhibition London Victoria & Albert Museum / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Gemma Ward wearing the silk chiffon dress from "The Widows as Culloden" Fall/Winter 2006 collection used for the Kate Moss Hologram / Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty Exhibition London Victoria & Albert Museum / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Gemma Ward wearing the silk chiffon dress from "The Widows as Culloden" Fall/Winter 2006 collection used for the Kate Moss Hologram / Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty Exhibition London Victoria & Albert Museum / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
I stepped out, straight into the white dress from the Fall/Winter 2008 collection, and swiftly moved on following the warm but incredibly lonely sound of a violin playing the Schindler's List melody...



Another dark space... An empty room with a glass pyramid in a middle of it. The light goes off, then a small dot appear in a middle of nowhere, moving, transforming, turning into a hologram of Kate Moss floating in the air... She slowly melts away, into a tiny bright dot that finally explodes and melts into the darkness... I never read about the thought behind this hologram - I wanted to use my own senses when "meeting with McQueen"... I don't know if I am wrong or right, but this moment to me symbolised the anti-matter, the subatomic particles trying to come together and the big bang, the birth of everything, the life and death, the evolution... This would be very McQueen in his very essence. 

Installation view of "Romantic Naturalism" gallery / Alexander McQueen savage beauty exhibition Victoria & Albert Museum / V&A London / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Alexander McQueen / Savage Beauty / Detail from the "Sarabande" Spring/Summer 2007 collection / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Alexander McQueen / Savage Beauty / Detail from the "Widows of Culloden" Fall/Winter 2006 collection / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Tania Dzyagileva wearing Alexander McQueen dress made of frozen flowers from the "Sarabande" Spring/Summer 2007 collection
Details from Alexander McQueen "Sarabande" Spring/Summer 2007 collection / Savage Beauty exhibition London /via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Installation view of "Romantic Exoticism" gallery / Voss / Alexander McQueen savage beauty exhibition Victoria & Albert Museum / V&A London / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Karen Elson wearing Tahitian pearl & silver neckpiece by Shaun Lean for Alexander McQueen "Voss" Spring/Summer 2001 collection photographed by Anthea Simms
Installation view of "Romantic Exoticism" gallery / Voss / Alexander McQueen savage beauty exhibition Victoria & Albert Museum / V&A London / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Details from Alexander McQueen "Voss" Spring/Summer 2001 collection / Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at Victoria&Albert museum / via fashioned by love british fashion blog
At this point I thought that the exhibition was over and was over the moon to discover that  just around the corner there was another room divided into three spaces. It was the "Romantic Naturalism" and "Romantic Exoticism", the place where Voss and the Widows of Culloden dresses met the most incredible floral gowns from the Sarabande.

Erin O'Connor wearing Razor clam shell dress from Alexander McQueen "Voss" Spring/Summer 2001 collection via firstVIEW / Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty / via fashioned by love
For me, Voss was one of the highlights. I watched the show so many times finding it incredibly emotional. Watching it always made me think of a lost soul trapped inside those glass walls, the beauty, the ugly side of things, the flesh and bitter truth. Admittedly, with so much going on, it was not always easy to focus solely on the clothes. This time it was all about the clothes, the details, the embroideries and embellishments, the shells and silks, the delicate and the tough.



"Voss is to do with the politics of the world - the way life is - and what beauty is." Alexander McQueen

I thought of one of the McQueen's quote found in "the grotto"... "You know, we can all be discarded quite easily. You're there, you're gone..." The fragility of human nature.

Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 2002 campaign (photography: Steven Klein, model: Tatiana Urina)
The final display was dedicated to the Plato's Atlantis, the last collection designed by Alexander McQueen and the very first one ever live streamed to the public by the SHOWstudio. Inspired by a story McQueen found at wikipedia, it was set somewhere in the future when the humanity had to devolve and learn to live underwater in order to survive.

Alexander McQueen "Plato's Atlantis" Spring/Summer 2010 collection / Savage Beauty exhibition / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Alexander McQueen "Plato's Atlantis" Spring/Summer 2010 collection / Savage Beauty exhibition / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Alexander McQueen "Plato's Atlantis" Spring/Summer 2010 collection / Savage Beauty exhibition / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Installation view of "Platos Atlantis" gallery, 27. Alexander McQueen "Plato's Atlantis" Spring/Summer 2010 collection
Alexander McQueen "Plato's Atlantis" Spring/Summer 2010 collection / Savage Beauty exhibition / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Alexander McQueen "Plato's Atlantis" Spring/Summer 2010 collection / Savage Beauty exhibition / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Alexander McQueen "Plato's Atlantis" Spring/Summer 2010 collection / Savage Beauty exhibition / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
The work and the imagination that went into those beautiful little dresses was otherworldly. What looked like digital prints on tv and photos was, in fact, a combination of patterns and embroideries made of woven silks, enamel paillettes, resin and hair strands to resemble anything from snakeskin to fish scales.



This exhibition is a labour of love. An eye opener. A thought provoking journey. If you are prepared to look beyond the banality (i.e. that "oh this is so pretty" way of seeing things), each dress will tell you a story and change your perception of fashion forever.

Savage beauty made it evident that the mind of Alexander McQueen had no boundaries, just as his talent had no limits. He loved fashion as intensely as he loved life. Creating for him was like breathing, it was his lifeline, his way to express emotions and communicate with the world. He would have lived as long as he had his fashion and could create and "take us on (our) journeys (we) never dreamed were possible." A visionary, a dreamer, a genius, an artist with an insatiable appetite for life whose fate and fortunes were decided by anyone, but him.

Alexander McQueen at his Spring/Summer 2010 show finale / via fashioned by love British fashion blog
Photo source: 1. Installation view of "London", 2. Installation view of "Savage Mind", 3. Installation view of "Romantic Gothic" gallery, 4. Dress from "Supercalifragilisticexpiadocious" Fall/Winter 2002 collection, 5. Alexander McQueen "Supercalifragilisticexpiadocious" Fall/Winter 2002 collection, 6. Alexander McQueen "The Horn of Plenty" Fall/Winter 2009 collection, 7. The Raven dress from "The Horn of Plenty" Fall/Winter 2009 collection, 8. Installation view of "Romantic Primitivism" gallery, 9. A yellow bead and horse hair dress from the "Eshu" Fall/Winter 2001-2002 collection, 10. Leather dress of a laser cut crinoline draped around a metal wire and horse hair and glass beads dress from the "Eshu" Fall/Winter 2001-2002 collection, 11. Leather and silk flower dress from the "Eshu" Fall/Winter 2001-2002 collection, 12-14. Alexander McQueen "Irere" Spring/Summer 2003 collection, 15. "Romantic Nationalism" installation featuring the Widows of Culloden Fall/Winter 2006 dresses, 16-17. Details of Alexander McQueen "The Widows of Culloden" Fall/Winter 2006 collection, 18. Alexander McQueen "The Widows of Culloden" Fall/Winter 2006 collection & "The Girl Who Lived in the Tree" Fall/Winter 2008 collection, 19-20. Details of Alexander McQueen "The Girl Who Lived in the Tree" Fall/Winter 2008 collection, 21. "Romantic Nationalism" installation featuring the The Girl Who Lived in the Tree Fall/Winter 2008 dresses, 22. Shalom Harlow wearing the spray painted dress from the No. 13 Spring/Summer 1999 collection via Catwalking, 23. Installation view of "Cabinet of Curiosities" gallery, 24-26. Gemma Ward wearing the silk chiffon dress from "The Widows as Culloden" Fall/Winter 2006 collection used for the Kate Moss Hologram, 27. Installation view of "Romantic Naturalism" gallery, 28. Detail from the Alexander McQueen "Sarabande" Spring/Summer 2007 collection, 29. Detail from Alexander McQueen "The Widows of Culloden" Fall/Winter 2006 collection, 30. Tania Dzyagileva wearing Alexander McQueen dress made of frozen flowers from the "Sarabande" Spring/Summer 2007 collection, 31. Details from Alexander McQueen "Sarabande" Spring/Summer 2007 collection, 32. Details from Alexander McQueen "Voss" Spring/Summer 2001 collection, 33. Installation view of "Romantic Exoticism" gallery, 34. Karen Elson wearing Tahitian pearl & silver neckpiece by Shaun Lean for Alexander McQueen "Voss" Spring/Summer 2001 collection photographed by Anthea Simms, 35. Installation view of "Voss", 36. Details from Alexander McQueen "Voss" Spring/Summer 2001 collection, 37. Erin O'Connor wearing Razor clam shell dress from Alexander McQueen "Voss" Spring/Summer 2001 collection via firstVIEW, 38. Alexander McQueen Fall/Winter 2002 campaign (photography: Steven Klein, model: Tatiana Urina), 39-41. Alexander McQueen "Plato's Atlantis" Spring/Summer 2010 collection, 42. Installation view of "Platos Atlantis" gallery, 43-45. Alexander McQueen "Plato's Atlantis" Spring/Summer 2010 collection, 46. Alexander McQueen at his Spring/Summer 2010 show finale

Image credits: 1, 2, 3, 8, 18, 19, 23, 22, 23, 27, 29, 30, 31, 33, 34, 35, 37, 42 Victoria and Albert Museum, London /  4, 7, 9, 11, 15, 21 British Vogue / 5, 6, 12-14, 16-20, 20-22, 24-26, 27, 35-37, 43-46 Stylebistro / 28, 32, 36 Vogue UK official Facebook page

17 comments:

  1. Simply amazing and breathtaking fashion and art.

    ~Pau
    www.lilbitsofchic.com

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  2. wow! awesome stuff! love the way you have put in so much effort to write in depth details about the brand! love it!
    www.cocktailsandcatwalk.com

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  3. Wow, amazing post. *__*
    Lovely greets Nessa

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  4. What a gorgeous exhibition! It must have been breathtaking in person.

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  5. What a fabulous post-editorial ! These photos are delicious. I did miss the exhibit here, but my friend bought me the book. He is such an artist, albeit someone who is sometimes dark, but he really take his dressed and fuses them with his creative instincts,: indeed the model look part flower, part gothic character, part of the earth elements ,with each shot.
    Thanks for posting this, I will revisit it for inspiration
    xx, Elle
    http://mydailycostume.com

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  6. Wow, I can imagine, dear Natalia, this was really a fantastic experience and I thank you for sharing this here <3
    xx from Germany/Bavaria, Rena
    www.dressedwithsoul.com

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  7. God, such a beautiful mind. I can't even articulate how beautiful I think his pieces are- each one is so complex and takes such great skill to make real. I also always enjoyed his details- like the hair and makeup. I love the show where they all look alien like with the cornrow hair. I mean, that's other level type of stuff right there.

    xo marlen
    Messages on a Napkin

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  8. I love McQueen's works and all his rationales behind each piece. I'm actually looking forward to catching his exhibition in London this July!

    www.coquettishmish.com

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  9. I don't think anybody will ever quite match his talent.

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  10. perhaps my favorite post of yours. so lucky you got to experience this. the way you described it was exquisite.

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  11. Natalia... I so need to go to the V&A and see Savage Beauty... After your post I feel even more compelled!

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  12. Ahhh stunning. That first shot is incredible!

    xo

    Michaela
    http://michaelajeanblog.com

    http://www.etsy.com/shop/MichaelaJeanArt

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  13. My jaw is on the floor right now Natalia. I love exhibitions! There's nothing like seeing something in person. How we "see" things on the runway or pictures comes across differently once you see it in person. There is a difference. It gives you a new perspective. When I saw the Diana exhibit last year, it changed nearly everything of what I thought. Thanks for sharing this with us. He was a genius.
    http://www.averysweetblog.com/

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  14. Firstly, I love the quote about modifying fashion like a scientist. This type of exhibition really appeals to me and you have chosen a stunning selection of creations. I know it's a cliché but these are true works of art. Thanks for a wonderful post!

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