Fashion is often appointed a separate sphere of action. Whether it is because one considers style an unobtainable ideal, a language spoken only by a few or believes a person can either ‘fashionable’ or not.
Yet the invisible curtains enforcing fashion’s seclusion have been parted in the recent months with the arrival of the Savage Beauty exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum. The exhibition has prompted the dispersion of fashion; it lines the escalators in tube stations, famous faces at the opening dominated newspapers and inevitably an array of relatives has recommended it to you. Promotions have been a triumph, necessitating opening hours beyond that of previous exhibitions and still one has to book now for times in June. Needless to say however such crowds are also testament to the extraordinary contribution to fashion made by Alexander McQueen.
Savage Beauty is an example of the expert ability of the team who curated it and is wholly unique. I would even suggest the exhibition warrants the title an ‘experience’; one’s senses are saturated by the shifting music, the visual feast of the clothes, the controlled lighting, the set design, footage of shows and even dynamic displays that provide full views of McQueen’s creations, like a piece in a music box.
The ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ is the apex of the exhibition, twice the size of its counterpart at the MET exhibition four years ago, the room is of huge scale and ambition, however retains an intimate feel. Visitors rested in the centre of the room for prolonged period in an attempt to absorb and note the abundance of dresses, shoes, headpieces and many more components of McQueen’s designs. This room acts as the workshop in the designer’s mind and more than any other provides an insight into his psyche.
Other rooms each embody one of the polarities presented in McQueen’s collections and an aspect of the savage beauty oxymoron; ‘Romantic gothic’, ‘Romantic Exoticism’, ‘Romantic Nationalism’ and there is a loose sense of chronology in the development of the rooms that open with his shows in industrial estates, progress through his education on SavileRow and end with the final show under his supervision Plato’s Atlantis.
The sponsors of the experience betray the interdisciplinary nature of the feat, American Express, Mac cosmetics, Samsung and Swarovski. This is reflective of the nature of McQueen’s work. The exhibition showcases the ability of fashion to draw from various fields, not just for inspiration but for materials, the texture of items in Romantic Primitivism in particular drew upon natural resources. Additionally Savage Beauty displayed fashion’s function as a collaborative process with the products of McQueen’s collaborations with Swarovski, Shaun Leane and Phillip Treacy, amongst others displayed. Moreover the presentation of the hologram of a ghostly Kate Moss, lifted from 2006 ‘Windows of Culloden’ show, reminds of the showmanship of his work and this moment which saw the convergence of the finale gown, the poignant Schindler’s List soundtrack and the technical achievement of the hologram itself.
McQueen himself stated “The turnover of fashion is just so quick and so throwaway, and I think that is a big part of the problem. There is no longevity”, this exhibition contrives his very words and it is evident McQueen’s creations continue to captivate his public and his legacy endures.
Images: V&A Savage Beauty press release