It seems a little unfair to write so effusively about an exhibition which ends tomorrow making it unlikely that most people will get to see it. In my defence I have only seen it fairly recently myself, but boy am I glad I did. I have seen lots of exhibitions at art galleries and museums over the years and if I’m honest there aren’t that many which stay with me too long after I’ve seen them. Such is the drama of ‘Savage Beauty’ at the V & A in London however, I know this will be one that does. If you live in London you can’t have failed to see the striking image advertising this exhibition that has been showing for the past four months You may also have heard that such was the demand for tickets, that opening hours were extended for the last two weekends so that it stayed open all night enabling a further 12000 visitors to go along. I’m feeling a little smug that I had pre booked my ticket some time ago.
As I suspect I’ve said before I don’t know much about fashion but I do enjoy clothes and especially creative, beautifully made clothes, and the sheer number of stunning clothes in this exhibition is overwhelming.
From the moment you enter the exhibition through a darkened area with dimmed lighting, loud music and the late Alexander McQueen’s voice speaking in the background, you realise you are in for something quite different. Immediately there’s a sense of expectation and even apprehension. I have never been to a fashion show but I imagine this is what it might be like.
The show is a retrospective of the late designer’s work . Starting with his 1992 MA graduate collection and closing with his unfinished A/W 2010 collection, there is an expanse of fashion on which to feast the eyes.
The exhibition is divided into rooms each showing different collections from his career, giving a real sense of his progression as a designer. Each room included quotes from McQueen which give an insight into what he was trying to achieve and where his inspiration came from. McQueen was a rebel with a keen sense of tradition
“You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but keep the tradition”
The exhibition begins with sharp tailoring, suits and the infamous ‘bumsters’ and moves into a much more theatrical ‘Romantic Gothic’. From the gold painted goose feather coat to the black swan gown, there is sense of the fairy tale often with an underlying darkness.
The room entitled ‘Romantic Primitism’ is heavily laden with tribalism, beating drums, walls inlaid with bones and skulls and then you enter a room called Romantic Nationalism. The contrast is huge, and welcoming, it feels calmer. Traditional tartans, and regal gowns, with lots of references to his Scottish heritage and British pride.
The cabinet of curiosities was my favourite. This is a large room with floor to ceiling displays of clothes and accessories. Around the walls are scenes from Alexander McQueen’s runway shows and constantly changing music. It’s a complete assault on the senses, and I can only liken it to being inside a large and very glamorous music box. I was struck by the sheer volume of items on display but also the incredible talent and imagination to produce such beauty.
Towards the end of the exhibition is a film featuring an ethereal Kate Moss as a spectre floating above the catwalk. This is both beautiful and moving and is perhaps a fitting description of how I found the exhibition.
I left feeling equally thrilled and sad. Thrilled at what I had seen but sad that such talent was coupled with such sorrow which ultimately ended in McQueen taking his own life.
Since visiting the show I’ve watched an interesting Documentary on You tube called ‘McQueen and I’. If you are at all interested I would recommend this .
images all via V & A