It’s been a few weeks now since I went to the V&A to see the critically acclaimed Alexander McQueen ‘Savage Beauty’ exhibition, yet the show has been firmly imprinted in my mind. I remember being bitterly disappointed when it was announced that the exhibition would be firstly shown in the Museum of Modern Art (not sure how my fellow Newham boy would have felt about that).
Separated neatly into several themed rooms, the exhibition showcased the diversity of his years work. They showed his sensitivity, his playful rebelliousness, his darkness and his ability to create beauty. They seamlessly linked the rooms together and really flaunted the complexities of McQueen’s artistry. It became clear, that McQueen was a romantic at the core, tinged with Gothic tendencies. This tension was really effortlessly depicted to those less familiar with McQueen.
McQueen loved working with what was traditionally considered beautiful and undoing it in order to test the limits of our conceptions of ‘beauty.’ The rather plump lady, covered in butterflies and hooked up with various tubes starting his 2001 ‘VOSS’ collection shows this sentiment. The whole atmosphere in the exhibition was foreboding and a little repellent, yet it was hypnotic and you couldn’t walk away. The only word that comes to mind is sublime. Alexander loved the twisted. He loved colliding antitheses. McQueen tackled the metaphoric rape of his Highland heritage, then studied the craftsmanship of Nigerian Yoruba culture. He was a Darwinian scientist and a romantic. He admired the exotic, but he was rooted in London. What you get from this exhibition is a clear sense of not only an incomprehensibly delicate craftstmen, but of a human being that truly felt the world not only in binaries, but for all of the spectrum in between.
What we fail to see in pictures is the sheer stature of his pieces, the foreboding of the black swan piece is something you can only truly feel once you’ve stepped beside it. It’s intimidating but empowering. You could imagine just standing in the dress would force you to alter your walk, the fitted bottom would force you to walk a little restricted but feminine nevertheless. But the top, with the looming shoulder details would arch over anyone in your path. His aim was clear, “I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.”
My personal favourite room, amongst the hallucinogenic hologram of Kate Moss, was the ‘Room of Curiosity.’ The room was set out like a collector’s box, staggering alcoves filled with slowly rotating dresses and large headpieces filled the room to the ceiling. This room did well to show the accompaniments to his clothing were just as important to creating a collection. His accessories were often like caged masks, almost like bondage and fetish wear, which offset delicate cuts, pins and tucks. Pulling the viewer in two opposing places.
McQueen was undoubtedly a genius. It was astounding to see his craft first hand, and something I will never forget. But the impression that will remain with me is his reluctance to play the ‘fashion game’ of appeasing his audience. He did exactly what he wanted, he was an anarchist, a rebel and a talent that will never be matched. (In light of his rebelliousness I took some sneaky pictures, so daring I know)