You can hardly call it fashion as Alexander McQueen’s soaring imagination knew no bounds. Savage Beauty, the exhibition dedicated to his peerless designs which just opened at London’s V&A, explodes with theatricality. At the same time it’s hauntingly visceral – in keeping with the man himself (1969-2010) who also designed his own tragic end.
Not being a fashionista, I shan’t indulge in any critique of this mesmerising show, merely say that if you’re anywhere near London between now and August 2, when it closes, make it an absolute priority. 200 tickets will be released daily, so there’s no excuse. Here are a few pics and pointers as to what awaits you.
Rarely have I seen such a spellbinding mix of historical references (Scotland’s tartan battles, medieval armour, Victorian Gothic or French Ancien Régime styles) with unadulterated use of texture plus majestic tailoring and cuts.
McQueen’s inspiration sources were global. Indigenous craft like a feather headdress could have come straight from the Amazon, skirts of fibre reminded me of Papuans while patterned feathers were all a-flutter on shoes (or rather clopines, those French baroque platform affairs) or entire, swirling dresses.
Artifical hair, metallic plates, gold masks, concertina skirts. satin, silk, embroidery, frogging, ruffles, beading, tulle and taffeta – it perfectly encapsulates decadent splendour – as well as true mastery of his craft.
Above all the exhibition design by Sam Gainsbury (who collaborated with McQueen on his ground breaking fashion shows) showcases it brilliantly. Each room focuses on a different style (the exhibition is not chronological) with backdrops of gilt framed mirrors, an ossuary of lacquered bones or the most spectacular of all, the Cabinet of Curiosities (above). In this double-height hall the towering walls are covered in irregular-sized shelving to frame the humungus gamut of McQueen’s flights of fantasies: the pieces spolit, revolving or flickering on screens.
Accessories are omnipresent. A ‘hat’ resembles the coronet of a “flying nun”(top above), another elevated headpiece is ethereally transparent and lacey in medieval style. Elsewhere it’s tight, black leather helmets, spookily futuristic atop swathes of rich fabric. None of these enter any street-fashion lexicon; all are for another world, another dreamy (or dark and nightmarish) afterlife.
Finally – my favourite (below), a simple shift dress – of razor clam shells. Because it reminds me of when McQueen’s whole fashion operation was based yards from my flat in Clerkenwell, and occasionally I’d glimpse the creator at a rare surviving jellied eel shop round the corner in Exmouth Market.
Clark’s had been going since 1910, its simple wooden booths and tables barely changed despite the surrounding proliferation of hipster bars and restaurants. So this straightforward classic was where the East End lad chose to lunch, true to his origins, however extra-planetary his mind.