The largest collection of Alexander McQueen’s visionary work, entitled Savage Beauty, comes to London with the intention of making its mark. Within the first few weeks of sales tickets had already been sold out indicating that the popular fashion guru is still very much an iconic and inspirational designer. His work is here to tantalise, shock and enthuse us until the 2nd of August at the Victoria and Albert Museum (South Kensington).
The wacky and truly wonderful Alexander McQueen has been the epitome of mystery in the fashion world with his extremist takes on self-expression that openly expose to the public his inner being. Everything from his connection to nature and the exploration of culture to his self-proclaimed sadism associated with sex, McQueen’s radical stance on liberty and freedom of self-expression originated from his association with the Romantic Movement. ‘I am a romantic schizophrenic’, he used to say. His works were hugely confessional and reflected his inner gothic, with many pieces exemplifying his emotionality and inspirations.
However, simultaneously he sought to reflect a variety of cultures that had inspired many of his pieces. ‘You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition’. This intention can be seen, for instance, in his 2005 collection It’s Only a Game which explores the dichotomy of a chess game between Eastern Japan and Western USA which was, whimsically, inspired by the large-scale game in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. The nature of this collection contrasts with the traditional, embroidered kimono-styled designs to ones portraying McQueen’s take on an American football player’s uniform.
Although difficult to understand due to the uncanny nature of the pieces – such as the real alligator heads stitched onto the shoulders of a suit jacket, the immense horns shaped onto a couture dress or the full body ensemble dress intricately fashioned, in its entirety, from raven feathers – the exhibition is the largest collection in Europe that reflects the quirky fashionista’s talent. Whether you revere or fear it, now that’s entirely up to you.
The cohort of his different collections are elegantly staged throughout the V&A beginning with his earliest 1995 collections and transcending, chronologically, through his fashion marvels, with each collection staged in accordance with his inspirations and themes, all the way up to his penultimate and, arguably, most powerful collection, Plato’s Atlantis of summer 2010. This second-to-last collection was inspired by the concept of devolution. McQueen tampers with the natural evolutionary order of things as he presents an antithesis to On the Origins of Species; his vision sees the world devolve back into the wonder of the aquatic realm of the oceans. This collection is all about water and its power to hold a world as lively and bustling as our own but the interiority of which lies hidden from us. In addition, these water-inspired outfits from Plato’s Atlantis each come accompanied with McQueen’s bizarre and intimidating 10-inch ‘armadillo shoes’ that have proved awe-inciting for the radical music style icon that is Lady Gaga who wore them in her ‘Bad Romance’ video.
It can be argued that the shoes are a topic of hot rivalry, they are the Marmite of the fashion world, you truly do either love them or hate them. But even more intriguing than their insane height, is their price. There are only 21 hefty armadillo shockers in existence each priced between an astonishing $3,900 to $10,000 a pair! If you’re an avid fan of the design-God and desperately desire a pair then you better start saving up as the price varies based on the embroidery and embellishment on the shoe, the style and skin.
Overall, initial impressions of the exhibition are usually shock, as can be explicitly inferred from McQueen himself admitting that ‘the clothes have a visceral quality that alludes to the grisly Jack the Ripper murders’. But also, the clothes bring out a deep appreciation for the designer’s concern and respect for his own craft. His hard work and dedication can clearly be seen through his collections and truly speaks for itself, as do these words: ‘I want to be a purveyor of a certain type of silhouette or cutting, so that when I’m dead and gone people will know that the twenty-first century was started by Alexander McQueen’.