V&A MuseumAlexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty.
The Savage Beauty exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum presents the only major retrospective in Europe of the visionary designer’s limitless talent.
The Savage Beauty exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum presents the only major retrospective in Europe of the visionary designer’s limitless talent. In total the exhibition includes more than 240 ensembles and accessories, the largest number of individual pieces designed by McQueen and collaborators ever seen together.
Originated by the Costume institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Savage Beauty has been edited and expanded for the V&A’s large exhibition libraries. It features 66 additional garments and accessories, including some rare early pieces, lent by private individuals and collectors such as Katy England and Annabelle Neilson, as well as pieces from the Isabella Blow Collection and the House of Givenchy.
The thematic presentation of the exhibition reflects McQueen’s Romantic sensibility, and interrogates ideas and concepts central to his work, including his subversion of traditional tailoring, the focus of the exhibition, and his interplay between light and dark. Garments on display demonstrate signature McQueen silhouettes – including that of the ‘Bumster’ trousers – and highlight his innovative cutting techniques.
“I want to be the purveyor of a certain silhouette or a way of cutting, so that when I’m dead and gone people will know that the twenty-first century was started by Alexander McQueen.” – Alexander McQueen
The first section of the exhibition focuses on the raw creativity of three of McQueen’s impactful early collections: The Birds (S/S 1995), Highland Rape (A/W 1995) and The Hunger (S/S 1996). Ten designs, some of them on display for the first time since they were originally shown on the catwalk, are presented alongside footage of McQueen’s earliest catwalk shows.
The exhibition then moves onto Romantic Gothic section, which draws out the Victorian Gothic tradition referenced in his work, and includes pieces from his final, unfinished collection. He was particularly inspired by the nineteenth century, and like the Victorian Gothic, which combines elements of horror and romance, McQueen’s collections often reflected paradoxical relationships such as life and death, melancholy and beauty.
Romantic Primitivism explores McQueen’s fascination with the raw animal world and addresses the designer’s response to the theme of survival. McQueen’s shows frequently explored the notion of the metamorphic female body. Animal-women and bird-women permeated many of his collections and were sometimes presented as painfully beautiful, and at other times as inhuman and threatening. Either way, as seen in his darkly romantic black swan gown, McQueen presented fashion as a transformational medium.
“I think there has to be an underlying sexuality. There has to be a perverseness to the clothes. There is a hidden agenda in the fragility of romance. It’s like the Story of O. I’m not big on women looking naïve.” – Alexander McQueen
McQueen’s fascination with his Scottish heritage, ancestry and the colonial past is explored within the Romantic Nationalism section, including garments from his A/W 2006 collection The Widows of Culloden. A further section in the exhibition is devoted to recreating the spectacular Pepper’s Ghost, which provided a memorable finale to The Widows of Culloden catwalk, with the spectral form of Kate Moss appearing within a dedicated viewing area.
The heart of the exhibition lies in a mesmerising double-height gallery called The Cabinet of Curiosities. It showcases more than 120 hypnotic garments and accessories and screens film footage from most of McQueen’s catwalk presentations.
McQueen’s last fully realised collection, Plato’s Atlantis (S/S 2010) is the finale of the exhibition. Set with a futuristic narrative where the ice caps have melted and humanity has had to devolve in order to live under the sea, the dramatically original collection fuses McQueen’s interest in nature and technology in what was widely considered his greatest achievement.