Savage Beauty

“High Alert” to all those wishing to be astonished, amazed, astounded, and in general, blown away by the immense talent of our time’s greatest innovator!
There are just thirty days left to “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty”, the retrospective exhibition now on at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London; August 2nd this show will close, and the opportunity to travel a path through ten rooms of fashion creation will end.
It is simply Something Not to Miss!

Savage Beauty London

Originated by the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (2011), ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ has been completely re-edited and expanded by Claire Wilcox for the Victoria & Albert’s large exhibition galleries. It features 66 additional garments and accessories, and a totally new section focused on McQueen’s early London collections.

In the ten rooms set up with the collaboration of ‘Gainsbury and Whiting‘ (the production company that teamed up with Alexander McQueen in staging his catwalk shows), you follow an intensive artistic, creative, and emotional path, voyaging the Complete Works of a troubled boy from the London suburbs.

A gifted pattern maker who, after years of training at the style office of the Italian fashion designer Romeo Gigli, the traditional tailors of Savile Row, and accomplishing a graduation at Central Saint Martins (1992), learned to vent to his instincts into unique and inspired visions.

Savage Beauty

Recently I visited the exhibition, and the word “amazing”, doesn’t begin describing it.
Room after room shivers come in succession as in a crescendo of emotions, but there is no sense of sadness or nostalgia (that usually comes when you visit an exhibition dedicated to an artist who had a turbulent life). On the contrary, you can see joy in the eyes of the visitors, who can finally experience all McQueen’s masterpieces, that even after 20 years still look innovative.

Given the absolute prohibition against taking pictures, I found online a sufficient visual documentation that could convey the feelings I had. Reader: maybe you will be inspired from these words and images with the crazy idea to book a last minute flight to London to see the exhibition, like I did.

London

The first section of the exhibition focuses on the years during which McQueen did fashion shows in London.
In front of a big screen with footage of McQueen’s earliest catwalk shows stands a host of dummies showcasing the most controversial elements of the collections at the turn of 1995 and 1996.
It’s impossible not to stop in front of the white shirts with PVC pockets containing human hair strands for The Hunger collection (S/S 1996); or the ripped dresses of The Highland Rape collection (A/W 1995) made with a synthetic lace looking like encrusted sugar on mud; or in front of the prints of The Birds collection (S/S 1995) in which Hitchcock meets Escher.

  • Savage Beauty London - room 1 - credits Dezeen
  • Savage Beauty London - room 1 - credits MET museum
  • Savage Beauty London - room 1 - credits Vogue UK

Credits: Dezeen | MET | Vogue UK

Savage Mind

McQueen’s skillful subversion of traditional tailoring practices is the focus of the second room. Garments on display demonstrate his art in overturning the silhouette of any type of historic garment, turning it into something never seen before.
It’s the case of an outrageous item such as the ‘Bumster’ trousers, characterized by a very low waist that highlights the sacrum; but also more experimental pieces like the S-bend trousers; the mosaic jacket representing a suffering Christ by Robert Campin (1430) from the Dante collection (A/W 1996); or finally, the pink silk satin printed in a thorn pattern coat, that was part of the graduating collection at Central Saint Martins, and not to omit Jack the Ripper stalks His Victims (1992), bought in full by the fashion editor Isabella Blow for £ 5,000.

  • Savage Beauty London - room 2 - coats - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 2 - credits Smudgetikka
  • Savage Beauty London - room 2 - bumster trousers - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 2 - jackets - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 2 - jacket detail - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 2 - credits Smudgetikka

Credits: Vogue UK | Smudgetikka

Romantic Gothic

This is surely one of the most evocative rooms of the exhibition path, where the interplay between dark and light is explored. On one side, there are dark clothes that drew inspiration from the Victorian Gothic tradition; on the other side the display includes pieces featuring light-colored garments like the ones with the angel prints from the Portinari Triptych by Hugo van der Goes (1477), or in gold goose feathers from McQueen’s final, unfinished collection.
Despite the mournful Gothic music in the background, when you enter the room there is no sense of a deep loss: indeed, the beauty of the craftsmanship is the only thing that stands out from in the dark mirrored walls.

  • Savage Beauty London - room 3 - credits Fashion Telegraph UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 3 - feather dress - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 3 - credits Smudgetikka
  • Savage Beauty London - room 3 - dress detail - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 3 - pink shoes - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 3 - setting - credits VeA press office
  • Savage Beauty London - room 3 - golden detail - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 3 - golden dresses - credits Smudgetikka

Credits: V&A press office | Smudgetikka | Vogue UK | Fashion Telegraph UK

Romantic Primitivism

The room is set up like the inside of a tribal burial mound made of bones and skulls, but actually it doesn’t seem so far either from the ossuary-crypt of the Church of Santa Maria Immacolata in Rome, decorated with the bones of 4,000 Capuchin monks collected between 1528 and 1870. This dark-but-“charming” environment explores McQueen’s fascination with the animal world, a subject which inspired him throughout his career.
This section also addresses McQueen’s response to the theme of survival, and the garments crafted from horn, bones, animal skins, fur, antlers, beads, horsehair and crocodile skulls can be seen as the ornaments for the sacred rituals of contemporary fashion, that, as a religion, gives them a new yet ancestral meaning.

  • Savage Beauty London - room 4 - credits Dezeen
  • Savage Beauty London - room 4 - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 4 - long dress - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 4 - detail - credits Fashion Telegraph UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 4 - dress - credits Vogue UK
  • Chiesa di Santa Maria Immacolata a via Veneto, Roma

Credits: Dezeen | Vogue UK | Fashion Telegraph UK

Romantic Nationalism

In this room we meet a confrontation between Scotland and England. On the left side McQueen condemns the Scottish genocide during the Jacobite risings in 1745 with the The Widows of Culloden collection (A/W 2006), in which the classic plaid pattern is completely changed with new twines and beaded lace appliqué.
On the other side of the room, there’s the triumph of England represented with The Girl who lived in the Tree collection (A/W 2008), based on an imaginary tale about a girl who lived in an elm tree in McQueen’s garden and reveals the opulent taste of the British Raj.

  • Savage Beauty London - room 5 - left side - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 5 - central dress - credits Fashion Telegraph UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 5 - credits Harpers Bazaar UK

Credits: Vogue UK | Harper’s Bazaar UK | Fashion Telegraph UK

Cabinet of Curiosities

This is definitely the most stupendous room of the whole exhibition, where more than 120 garments and accessories revive their original nature thanks to footage of fashion shows projected on the screens between one object and another.
In this room, McQueen’s followers feel lost in an emotional maze, re-living every single moment of the most significant fashion shows; but also the people outside of the fashion field (who maybe weren’t aware of the existence of this genius before the exhibition) are completely captured by the mix of art and madness… and it could not be otherwise!
The Japanese influences, the sport couture, the wooden wings worn by the singer Bjork, the Roman leather lorica molded with female breasts, the headpieces by Philip Treacy, the jewels by Shaun Leane, the angel wings, the eagle wings, the butterfly wings, the Armadillo shoes and the golden scales dress from the Plato’s Atlantis collection (S / S 2010), the shiny silk satin, the lace embroideries, the crown of thorns and the black mask with the figure of a crucified Christ… All these pieces of his genius are like the notes of a symphony, masterfully directed from the center of the room, by the white muslin gown worn by Shalom Harlow during the famous closing performance of the parade No.13 (S/S 1999), in which two mechanical robots sprayed black and yellow paint on the model.

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 (A/W 2006) catwalk show. Using technology popularized in the 19th century, the spectral form of Kate Moss appears within a dedicated viewing area.

  • Savage Beauty London - room 6 - setting - credits VeA press office
  • Savage Beauty London - room 6 - setting - Harpers Bazaar UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 6 - setting - Harpers Bazaar UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 6 - dress detail - credits Fashion Telegraph UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 6 - headpiece - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 6 - mask detail - credits Fashion Telegraph UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 6 - dress - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 6 - Kate Moss - Harpers Bazaar UK

Credits: Vogue UK | Harper’s Bazaar UK | Fashion Telegraph UK

Romantic Exoticism

McQueen’s longstanding interest in Eastern cultures is examined in this section through a set of rotating dummies inside little mirrored recesses and a carousel music in the background.

The embroideries inspired by Japanese and Chinese prints animate jackets and coats featuring silhouettes which seem suspended in time between tradition and innovation. Each dress is made of different materials ranging from precious brocade, to raw jute canvas and to the finest wool stolen from menswear.
Under some coats and jackets beats a heart made of mother of pearl shells, which like crinolines of the 18th century, reshape the silhouette of the body.
The background music stops once you get in front of the glass cube re-made from the Voss fashion show (S/S 2001) in which the “social artist” side of McQueen opposed to the politics of appearance, going against the rules of conventional beauty by putting at the center of the stage a overweight woman (the writer Michelle Olley) completely covered with larvae and butterflies.

  • Savage Beauty London - room 7 - japanese dress - credits VeA press office
  • Savage Beauty London - room 7 - setting - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 7 - detail embroidery - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 7 - detail - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 7 - detail raphia - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 7 - dress - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 8 - Harpers Bazaar UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 8 - credits Vogue UK

Credits: V&A press office | Harper’s Bazaar UK | Vogue UK

Romantic Naturalism

McQueen’s unconditional love for nature takes shape in this room’s setting design with several glass cases similar to those of an ancient museum. Passing by the bright colors of roses, hydrangeas and peonies that build the shapes and curvy volumes of the Sarabande collection (S/S 2007), we gradually arrive at all the shades of white, thanks to the shells dress worn by Erin O ‘Connor for the Voss (S/S 2001). This particular dress of razor-clam shells, and the other ones made of feathers, confirmed my own impression of being in a Science History museum like the famed ‘La Specola’ in Florence!

  • Savage Beauty London - room 9 - setting - credits VeA press office
  • Savage Beauty London - room 9 - dress - credits Vogue UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 9 - Harpers Bazaar UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 9 - detail - credits Vogue UK

Credits: V&A press office | Harper’s Bazaar UK | Vogue UK

Plato’s Atlantis

Here we are at the end of the exhibition, in the room dedicated to McQueen’s last fully realised collection inspired by the Plato’s myth of the city of Atlantis, set within a futuristic narrative where the ice caps have melted and humanity has had to devolve in order to live under the sea.

Beneath the waves, the human skin turns into an harmonious pattern of scales derived from various reptiles, whose design was digitally made by McQueen as if he had been in a laboratory for the study of transgenic animals.
In the background of the set there is the original video screened during the fashion show and some footage of the show itself. This show that turned into a legacy in which for the last time Alexander McQueen gave proof of his avant-garde vision in creating artistic oriented performances, and which for the first time ever, was broadcast live streaming on the internet. Fashion history!

  • Savage Beauty London room 10 credits Harpers Bazaar UK
  • Savage Beauty London room 10 credits Harpers Bazaar UK
  • Savage Beauty London - room 10 - setting - credits VeA press office copia

Credits: V&A press office | Vogue UK | Harper’s Bazaar

Let us conclude in the awe the show merits: Savage Beauty is not only a fashion exhibition, but a tribute that the entire British Nation, symbolically embodied by the V&A, dedicated to the late designer who changed fashion forever, sharing his irreverent, unconventional and sometimes cynical vision of society.

Through his performances McQueen pushed fashion to an upper level, according to which the tortured, tormented and humiliated human body (or human being) becomes the medium to launch a message for which the word ‘strong’ is utterly insufficient, in which clothes act as a main character and not just as a dress on a hanger, or for that matter, on any other object in our world then or now.

Alessandro Masetti – The Fashion Commentator

Special Thanks to Victoria & Albert Museum’s Press Office Team

Image Credits: Victoria & Albert Press Office | Vogue UK | Harper’s Bazaar | Fashion Telegraph UK | Smudgetikka | Dezeen

4 Comments

Leave a comment
  • Arriverò giusta giusta per vedere il grand finale!
    Anzi, visto che purtroppo non sono riuscita a prenotare il biglietto, mi dovrò mettere in coda al mattino presto per assicurarmi un biglietto!
    Sicuramente mi stamperò il tuo post e lo userò come guida della mostra!!

    XOXO

    Cami

    Paillettes&Champagne

    • Cami,
      Sono sicuro che la bellezza dei vestiti e dell’allestimento ti guideranno mille volte meglio della mia guida, anzi, lasciati incantare dall’atmosfera magica che sono riusciti a creare con una mostra del genere!
      Ne vorrei tante così anche in Italia, ma invece, siamo ancora nella paleontologia!!!
      Spero un giorno di poter essere parte del cambiamento culturale nei confronti della moda.
      Un bacione
      Ale

  • Grazie, grazie, grazie e ancora grazie per questo splendido articolo.
    Hai saputo scatenare in me un turbinìo di emozioni e brividi.
    Non mi vergogno a dire che quando appresi che Alexander McQueen si era tolto la vita ho pianto, ho pianto pensando a quanto dolore, disagio, talento e genio convissero in lui giungendo infine a straziarlo e a distruggerlo.
    Il tuo articolo rende giustizia alla sua figura e alla mostra: da ogni tua parola si percepisce passione.
    E attraverso questa tua passione, è come se fossi stata a Londra con te ed è per questo che ti dico ancora una volta grazie.

    Con stima,
    Manu

    • Cara Manu,
      Grazie, grazie, grazie e ancora grazie a te per averlo letto con così tanto entusiasmo. Adesso sono certo che le mie parole sono arrivate a destinazione, dritto dritto nel cuore di coloro che hanno visto, vedevano e continuando a vedere in McQueen non solo uno stilista, ma un qualcosa in più che oggi purtroppo non si riesce a trovare, nemmeno tra i grandi. Quando è arrivata la notizia del suicidio io sono rimasto sconvolto, perciò ti assicuro che non sei l’unica ad avere avuto una reazione così forte. Ritengo che nella vita esistono dei riferimenti artistici personali e lui per me era uno di questi. Oltraggioso e menefreghista nella sua grande sensibilità e debolezza umana. Ti auguro di trovare un biglietto a/r a pochi soldi perché la visita vale davvero l’intero viaggio, e più sfoglio il catalogo, più penso che ho fatto proprio bene a concedermi questa pazzia, soprattutto in un’epoca in cui un volo costa meno di un viaggio in treno!
      Un grande abbraccio
      Alessandro

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