Every year in central London the Victoria and Albert Museum launch several major new exhibitions. Running for an extended period from March to August 2015 the museum is hosting the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty Exhibition, featuring a wide range of McQueen’s unique fashion creations. It is the first and largest retrospective look at the fashion designer’s extraordinary work to be presented within Europe.
When approaching the exhibition, be prepared to see a long line, with faces full of excitement as the crowds anticipate entering. Although taking photographs is forbidden, you might catch the odd person trying to discreetly steal a photo without the security guards spotting them. The high-level security only adds to the tension of this high-profile exhibition. One look at the garments confirms the quality of the collection; numerous outfits are overloaded with layers of hand-sewn Swarovski crystals.
The dim lighting, elaborate glass cabinets and darkness of his creations evoke an eerie and unnerving atmosphere. It is surprising how inanimate objects have the power to generate particular emotions within us, including unease. Even the rooms’ temperatures are staged so that the tour begins in the warmest room and the temperature progressively drops throughout the exhibition.
McQueen effectively interweaved melancholy and romance and there is a definite focus on the macabre and gothic elements resonating throughout his collection. One dark corridor is filled with fake bones, before opening into an area where a garment made out of pony fur is illuminated. This provocative piece might challenge the observer into contemplating how society accepts the use of cow skin to create leather items, but is less tolerant of utilising pony fur. Perhaps humans are hypocritical creatures after all.
The central room is dazzling, filled with many of McQueen’s most famous designs. His work spreads across all four walls and the collection towers above, reaching right up to the ceiling. McQueen once said that he wanted each garment to stand out in its own right. However, the tremendous visual stimulation – including colours, shapes and materials – can feel disorientating at first glance. One particularly memorable and striking design is McQueen’s twelve inch armadillo high-heeled shoes, so dangerously shaped that models such as Abbey Lee Kershaw have refused to walk in them. McQueen also used masks to cover the entirety of the model’s face, therefore drawing the viewer’s gaze to the clothes, rather than the model’s beauty.
McQueen mixed beauty with the grotesque and set out to challenge boundaries within the industry and society, but he recognised the necessity to know the limits first in order to push past them. Despite his controversial and shocking designs, McQueen understood his couture and craft. Whether his subject matter and themes are liked or not is entirely up to the individual. Lee Alexander McQueen’s designs have fascinated people all over the world and will undoubtedly continue to intrigue generations to come.