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Mar 14 - Aug 02

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  • Butterfly headdress of hand-painted turkey feathers, Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen, La Dame Bleue, Spring/Summer 2008. Model: Alana Zimmer © Anthea Simms

  • Alexander McQueen’s “Savage Beauty” exhibition at Victoria & Albert Museum, London

  • Portrait of Alexander McQueen, 1997 photographed by Marc Hom. © Marc Hom/Trunk Archive


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Alexander McQueen’s “Savage Beauty” exhibition at Victoria & Albert Museum, London

Victoria & Albert Museum recently inaugurated the first European retrospective dedicated to the work of late designer Alexander McQueen, expanding and editing the 2011Savage Beauty” exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art that became one of the museum’s most visited exhibitions ever. Alexander McQueen is considered to be one of Britain’s most important artists, a pioneer fashion designer whose visionary work is closer to art than fashion, with an inspiring legacy that remains still alive, five years after his tragic death. Under this perspective, Victoria & Albert’s retrospective, the largest and most ambitious fashion exhibition the museum has ever staged according to curator Claire Wilcox, is an emotive homecoming to the town where he started his fashion adventure 23 years ago when he left school at the age of 15 in order to become a tailor’s apprentice on Savile Row in Mayfair.

“Savage Beauty” is an impressive showcase of McQueen’s technical skills, elaborate craftsmanship and inexhaustible imagination, spanning over his 18-year extraordinary career, from his 1992 Central Saint Martins MA graduate collection to his unfinished a/w 2010 collection. The exhibition includes more than 240 garments and accessories, with 66 additional pieces that were not displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s version, arranged in thematic rooms that pay tribute to the designer’s highly conceptual runway shows. The visitor will have the chance to discover McQueen’s fascination with Victorian Gothic, which can be seen in the way he combined horror and romance in his collections, as well as his passion for the theme of primitivism, seen in the way he explored the relationship between predator and prey, often contrasting modern and primitive elements.

The exhibition also casts light on McQueen’s use of autobiographical elements in his collections, from his Scottish heritage to his relationship with sex, as well as on his obsession with the “mechanics of nature”, seen in the way he used forms and raw materials from the natural world. It also showcases McQueen’s love for exoticism and folklore, often employing African, Chinese, Indian and Japanese motifs in his creations, as well as his original interpretation of futurism, visibly reflected in his s/s 2010 Plato’s Atlantis collection that explored the “devolution of mankind”, featuring a series of digitally engineered prints inspired by sea creatures and the now infamous, cyborg-inspired Armadillo boots.

“Savage Beauty” also pays tribute to McQueen’s numerous collaborations with celebrated accessory designers, including milliner Philip Tracey and jeweler Shaun Leane. An impressive, double-height gallery entitled “Cabinet of Curiosities” displays numerous atavistic and fetishistic accessories, as well as an array of show pieces that were specially created for the catwalk. “He was one of the most influential designers of his generation who shocked with his spectacular and powerful catwalk shows”, explained Claire Wilcox. “Savage beauty is a reflection of his elaborate storytelling, craftsmanship of the highest level and his romantic obsession with nature,” she continued. The exhibition is accompanied by an impressive catalogue, edited by Claire Wilcox, which features previously unseen material that captures the “breath-taking skill of his designs and awesome theatricality of his show”, as well as a series of in-depth essays from expert fashion commentators and cultural scholars about his life and work.