Savage Beauty Preview: Alexander McQueen at the V&A museum

March 13, 2015

Arts and CultureFashion | by Lydia Pang

“London is where I was brought up. It’s where my heart is and where I get my inspiration.”

You’re instantly confronted with McQueen’s words as you enter the space and it very much sets the tone, bringing the show back from New York and presenting where it should be, his home. The show heroes the work over the tragedy of the man, leaving everything we know about him at the door. But his ghost is omnipresent.

I had always followed and admired Mcqueen’s work. I mean, he is venerated as one of the greatest fashion designers ever to grace this earth. But, I realised when I walked into the space, engulfed by its silence and suffocating importance, that this was something much more than innovation, creativity or fashion.

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Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A Museum

Although the shows seamless curation tells the story of his craftsmanship and talent, the walls, the shadows of the mannequins and every dark fold of delicate fabric whisper secrets. You are inside the mind of the creator, the darkness of the artist himself. It felt inherently personal. When standing in this space, the gravity of who this man was and the deep sadness of his death just swallows you whole. You stand, disarmed, in this temple that aims to merely celebrate his work. And although his words guide you through each room, outlining inspirations and insights, what really stays with you is his mark and his touch which is everywhere, it’s palpable.

The space performs like a labyrinth revealing layers of curatorial narrative, you dance through moments and aesthetics like a play. Not unlike his catwalk shows which are more like art performances than displays of seasonal collections of clothes, the exhibition explores themes of masquerade and performance, even recreating some of that magic in his 2001 show Voss with a mirrored box containing trapped figures. The journey is designed to disarm and disrupt. The cold concrete silence leads into warm panelled Victorian Gothica and through to a bone encrusted crypt and into a light drenched Cabinet of Curiosity.

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The crypt at the V&A’s Savage Beauty

The first space details the raw creativity of his impactful early years, you’re given the serenity of his early innovative cutting techniques and careful crafting. But when you walk into the Romantic Gothic space the mood shifts. My mouth went dry, my brow furrowed and I found myself aimlessly wandering and studying every seam, every stitch, not wanting to miss a fragment. ‘The Horn of Plenty’, spiritual in presence, it faces you like an angry open mouth, epic and fearless. His work is nostalgic, grotesque, romantic and consuming all at once.

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The Alexander McQueen main hall at the V&A’s Savage Beauty

What I take away from today with absolute certainty is that, there has never been, nor ever will be, another man like Lee McQueen. His vision, his vulnerability, his soul and savage introspection was and is one of the purest forms of artistic expression we are likely to witness.

I could talk to you for days, weeks even, about tailored tartan and deconstructed black fabrics and leather straps and ripped lace and themes of ‘abjection’ and materiality in his use of hair and horns and skin. I could chew your ear off about how it feels to walk into the Cabinet of Curiosities and watch footage of THAT dress being attacked with paint, surrounded by metal spines and crowns of thorns. Or I could gush about how my heart felt when I watched the spectral form of Kate Moss, ghostly and ethereal dancing in the shadows.

But Savage Beauty is just not that sort of show, it isn’t to be consumed, rather it chooses to consume you. And I can’t take that away from you.

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