London Art Reviews

Magazine of art press and reviews from London

The spectacular Alexander McQueen exhibition, at the V&A Museum, London.

David Franchi – Wednesday, 22nd July 2015

Portrait of Alexander McQueen 1997 © the V&A Museum, London.

Portrait of Alexander McQueen 1997 © the V&A Museum, London.

The exhibition on Alexander McQueen is stunning, at the V&A Museum, London. “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” is the biggest retrospective exhibition in Europe, organized by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

The V&A Museum exhibition displays the creative body of work of Alexander McQueen spanning from his 1992 MA graduate collection to his unfinished A/W 2010 collection. The set –up of the show is made following the designer style, which was theatrical and with a thespian sense.

In 2011, the original edition of Savage Beauty was organised at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York by the Costume Institute. It has been one of the Museum’s top 10 most visited exhibitions.

Similarly, the V&A Museum of London version has been a great success too. So far, it has sold almost half million of tickets. The V&A Museum decided to put on sale 12,000 extra tickets for night time openings (between midnight and 6.00am) following numerous requests.

The complementary exhibition publication “Alexander McQueen” (edited by Claire Wilcox) is now officially the V&A’s most successful one, with more than 58,000 copies sold and currently featuring in the UK’s top ten non-fiction bestsellers chart. Records are also set by the V&A Museum website and waiting the end of the show to have final results.

Gainsbury and Whiting, the production company that collaborated with Alexander McQueen in staging his catwalk

Butterfly headdress of hand-painted turkey feathers Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen La_Dame Bleu Spring Summer, 2008 © Anthea Sims, the V&A Museum, London.

Butterfly headdress of hand-painted turkey feathers Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen La_Dame Bleu Spring Summer, 2008 © Anthea Sims, the V&A Museum, London.

shows are working with the V&A Museum on the exhibition. Samantha Gainsbury of Gainsbury & Whiting is the Exhibition Creative Director (Alexander McQueen) and was Creative Director of the original exhibition. Each room catch the spirit of the provocative, dramatic and extravagant catwalk presentations that McQueen became renowned for, combining storytelling, theatrical performance, music and film.

Every room of the Alexander McQueen exhibition is differently arranged in a sort of theatrical style, with music and play lights. The first room, ‘London’, is set up on steady grey cement- like style. McQueen once said: “London’s where I was brought up. It’s where my heart is and where I get my inspiration.”

The second room, ‘Savage Mind’, is the one that gave name to the exhibition. It has the same staging arrangement of the previous.

Third room, ‘Romantic Gothic’, has a predominance of black and gold colours, mannequins wear leather masks, crests and some light colour dresses.

‘Romantic Primitivism’, the following room, is very dark and on the walls there are cast bones, reminding cannibalism and primal acts.

Also focused on the same topic is the next room: ‘Romantic Nationalism’. Here mannequins wear golden embossed masks, tartans, gold plated metal pearls and Swarovski. The walls are arranged in Scottish club theme.

The sixth room is ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’. From the floor to the ceiling, there are overall items displayed in sort of boxes cabinet style. Every space has a mannequin or an object, made for catwalks, for example headdress, garments.

Duck feather dress The Horn of Plenty AW 2009-10, Model Magdalena Frackowiak represented by dna model management New York © The V&A Museum, London.

Duck feather dress, The Horn of Plenty AW 2009 -10, Model Magdalena Frackowiak represented by dna model management New York © Image First, the V&A Museum, London.

There are screens showing images of catwalks. Music is in the background. In the middle of the room, stands a mannequin turning with head cover in wax or plastic material.

The following room is the most famed of the exhibition. It s a dark room with a glass pyramid and inside of it there are play of lights ongoing endlessly. At a certain moment, a holographic 3D image of a beautiful lady wearing a white dress appears like a ghost moving. It is an impressive moment where the image of Kate Moss appears in a gown of rippling organza near life size as it was for the finale of the Widows of Culloden (A/W 2006-7) catwalk show.

The eighth room, ‘Romanticism Exoticism’, is outfitted in an oriental style, with mirrors in the back of turning mannequins, with a blonde haircut bowl.

The room nine, ‘VOSS’ is very dark, with play of lights, which are constantly changing, misplacing people. A video is projected in the background.

But when entering in the next room, ‘Romantic Naturalism’, there is a passage from dark to bright. There are big vitrines reminding the countryside. There is not music here, but sounds of birds. Dresses are looking like to be inspired by a Shakespearean drama, like Midsummer Night Dream.

In the last room, ‘Plato’s Atlantis’, colours are bright. Mannequins wear space age clothes and have head cut rabbit style. The music is drum and bass. A big screen on the back of mannequins shows images of models. This was the last fully realised and staged collection for McQueen (2010).

Lee Alexander McQueen, CBE, was born on 17th March 1969 and died 11th February 2010. He was a British fashion

Tahitian pear neckpiece Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen, Voss Spring Summer 2001 © Anthea Sims, the V&A Museum, London.

Tahitian pear neckpiece Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen, Voss Spring Summer 2001 © Anthea Sims, the V&A Museum, London.

designer and couturier. He is known for having worked as chief designer at Givenchy from 1996 to 2001 and for founding his own Alexander McQueen label. His achievements in fashion earned him four British Designer of the Year awards (1996, 1997, 2001 and 2003), as well as the CFDA’s International Designer of the Year award in 2003.

Born of humble origins in Lewisham, Alexander McQueen was the youngest of six children. He attended Rokeby School and left aged 16 in 1985 with one O-level in art, going on to serve an apprenticeship with Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard, before joining Gieves & Hawkes and, later, the theatrical costumiers Angels and Bermans.

While on Savile Row, McQueen’s clients included Mikhail Gorbachev and Prince Charles. At the age of 20, he worked for a period for Koji Tatsuno before travelling to Milan, Italy and working for Romeo Gigli.

McQueen returned to London and applied to Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, to work as a pattern cutter tutor. However, he was persuaded by Bobby Hillson, the Head of the Masters course, to enroll as a student. He received his master’s degree in fashion design and his 1992 graduation collection was bought in its entirety by influential fashion stylist Isabella Blow, who persuaded McQueen to follow his carrier using his middle name, Alexander.

McQueen earned an international reputation in the fashion world as an expert in creating impeccably tailored looks and counted in his customers in between the most famous personality, including David Bowie, Björk, Sylvie Guillem, Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Rihanna, J-pop queens, such as Ayumi Hamasaki, Namie Amuro, and Koda Kumi, and Lady Gaga.

Tulle and lace dress with veil and antlers, Widows of Culloden AW 2006, Model Raquel Zimmermann,  Viva London, Image first  ® the V&A Museum , London.

Tulle and lace dress with veil and antlers, Widows of Culloden AW 2006, Model Raquel Zimmermann, Viva London, Image first ® the V&A Museum , London.

In 1996, he was appointed head designer for Givenchy, until 2001. He then realized his most celebrated catwalk show the 2001 Spring/Summer collection, named VOSS.

McQueen founded his own company in 1992. In December 2000, the Gucci Group acquired 51% of his company and appointed him as Creative Director. By the end of 2007 he had boutiques in London, New York, Los Angeles, Milan, and Las Vegas.

On 11th February 2010, in the morning, his housekeeper found McQueen dead hanging at his home on Green Street, London W1.

Company owner Gucci confirmed that the brand would continue, and McQueen’s long-term assistant Sarah Burton was named as the new creative director of Alexander McQueen in May 2010.

The V&A’s presentation of the exhibition is being made possible with the cooperation of Alexander McQueen and will be in partnership with Swarovski, and supported by American Express.

The exhibition is being curated by Claire Wilcox, Senior Curator of Fashion, V&A and Professor in Fashion Curation, London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London.

Andrew Bolton, Curator of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York is Consultant Curator and was Curator of the original exhibition.

The exhibition “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” is ongoing until the 2nd of August 2015, at the V&A Museum, South Kensington, London.

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This entry was posted on July 22, 2015 by in Museums, Reviews and tagged , , , , .

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