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‘You’ve got to know the rules to break them’: The Legacy of Alexander McQueen

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The largest collection of Alexander McQueen’s visionary work, entitled Savage Beauty, comes to London with the intention of making a strong impact. Within the first few weeks of sales, tickets were instantly 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 August 2nd at the Victoria and Albert museum in South Kensington.

The whacky and truly wonderful Alexander McQueen epitomised the enigma that exists in the fashion world, with his extremist take on self-expression that openly exposed his inner being to the public, from his connection to nature, and the exploration of culture, to his self-proclaimed sadism, associated with sex. McQueen’s radical take on liberty and freedom of expression originates from his association with the Romantic Movement; his works were hugely confessional and prophesised an inner gothic interest. Admitting that he was a ‘romantic schizophrenic’, many pieces exemplify his emotions and inspirations. Simultaneously however, he sought to reflect a variety of cultures that also inspired many of his pieces. McQueen stated that, ‘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’. That commitment is certainly recognisable in his 2005 collection It’s Only A Game which explores a chess game between Eastern Japan and Western USA, whimsically inspired by the large scale game seen in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and representing a dichotomy between two realities .

The unconservative and uncanny nature of McQueen’s pieces are difficult to completely understand. Real alligator heads stitched onto the shoulders of suit jackets, horns shaped onto a couture dress, even a full body ensemble dress intricately fashioned from only raven feathers, this exhibition is undoubtedly the largest collection in Europe to reflect the quirky, yet memorable designs of McQueen’s enormous talent, and it leaves guests wondering if they do honestly revere of fear his designs.

McQueen’s collections are elegantly staged throughout the V&A, beginning with his earliest collection from 1995 and moving chronologically through his fashion marbles. Each collection is staged in accordance with his inspirations and key themes , leading up to his penultimate, and perhaps most powerful collection, Plato’s Atlantis from 2010. Seemingly inspired by the concept of devolution, McQueen tampered with the natural order of things, presenting an antithesis to On the Origins of Species, he sees the world devolve back into the wonder of the aquatic realm of the oceans. The water inspired outfits are all accompanied with the bizarre and infamous 10 inch ‘armadillo shoes’, which the iconic Lady Gaga wore in the music video to Bad Romance.

Overall, an initial reaction to the exhibition was the shock factor: McQueen explicitly admitted that ‘the clothes have a visceral quality that alludes to the grisly Jack the Ripper murders’. However, the clothes expose the sincere concern the designer had of his own craft, his hard work and sheer dedication can be seen clearly through his designs. Indeed, his legacy will continue to live on, and it can’t be better summarised than by the renowned fashion designer himself:

‘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.’

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