There’s only a handful of exhibitions over the past decade or so that I still remember vividly – some more than others. The glorious Monet exhibition at the Royal Academy in 1999 and in 2012, The Bigger Picture featuring the works of David Hockney which quite took my breath away. In the same year, I was entranced by the power, energy (and pure body of work) of one of the last great couturiers, Valentino at Somerset House.
There are two however that stand out even more and have taken exhibitions into a brand new level. The first was the seminal multi-media “Bowie is” at the Victoria & Albert Museum that packed such a powerful punch. I can still remember its shock and awe and would, if exhibited again, happily revisit in a heartbeat. The second, and important in a completely different way, was Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the same museum. From the moment of entry into a dark anteroom, I could see that this would be something special and my fellow visitors entering alongside me seemed to be of a similar opinion. We were all a little awed by the exhibition – even babies in pushchairs seemed hushed – and there was a reverence about it allied with a strong feeling of a tragic lost talent at the height of his powers. We actually spoke to each other too – complete strangers exchanging comments in front of particular outfits. Imagine – that’s so un-British but somehow so appropriate.
By walking through his life through this cleverly curated exhibit by Claire Wilcox, I saw the skill and raw talent that he had and how his ideas have permeated every section of our society. The quote “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” really sums up this exhibition. It took you through his Savile Row apprenticeship, his association with marques like Givenchy and the establishment of his own eponymous label. It’s easy to see why he was often referred to as the enfant terrible of fashion for his irreverent style and celebration of the gothic and grotesque – yet even in the most outlandish of collections, a beauty and grace shone through together with a surprising depth and grasp of historic knowledge and tradition.
I hadn’t realised the talent we lost when he took his own life. I am not a privileged fashion editor or rich patron, enjoying a personal access to a design house – and I hadn’t realised until this exhibition, that I am the poorer for it. It’s only by seeing these collections up close and personal – the actual clothes themselves rather than an image on the pages of a magazine, that you have a true sense of his worth, his innovation and skill and can appreciate just how sad his departure truly was.
What a tribute this was to Alexander McQueen. More exhibitions like this please. I feel I have come away enriched and enlightened. Thank you Victoria & Albert Museum.
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, in partnership with Swarovski, supported by American Express and made possible with the co-operation of Alexander McQueen, runs from 14th March – 2nd August 2015. There are still tickets available so snap one up soon – www.vam.ac.uk/savagebeauty. Follow Victoria and Albert Museum on twitter @V_and_A and on Facebook: Victoria and Albert Museum.
Contributor: Sue Lowry
Photographs: Reproduced courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum, London. Featured image of Butterfly headdress: Model: Alana Zimmer, copyright Anthea Simms.
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