This weekend saw the opening, finally, of the much publicised exhibition Savage Beauty, which celebrates the work of the late British designer Alexander McQueen. Like most people, I haven’t seen it yet so this isn’t a critique, but I did rather cleverly ask for and was given (thanks Mum!) a membership to the Victoria and Albert museum for my birthday this week, meaning I might be able to avoid the inevitable queues.
This exhibition comes four years after New York’s Metropolitan presented one of a similar nature. I was disappointed to have missed that much lauded show, so am thrilled that this one – bigger and better reportedly – is in London, the place of McQueen’s birth and the place from where he found most of his inspiration.
Brought up in Lewisham in South East London, McQueen was the youngest of six and left school at sixteen. He eventually studied fashion at Central St. Martins but not before he had worked at the costumier Angels and Berman’s where he learnt the art of sixteenth century pattern cutting and razor sharp tailoring. This experience would provide the backbone to much of his work. The historical references in his couture collections for french fashion house Givenchy for which he became chief designer just four years after graduating from St. Martin’s, to the dramatic lines of his more own brand pieces.
Alexander (more commonly known as Lee) McQueen pushed boundaries and it is that for which he will forever be revered. For all the flowers and feathers, there were the dark gothicky collections, for every feminine, delicate gown, there was a sharp masculine jacket. If a shoe could not possibly be any higher, he removed the heel completely. Hipster jeans as low as is decently possible?
McQueen made them indecent, thereby introducing the bumster. And then there were the skulls, skulls on everything – who hasn’t got a piece of jewellery or a scarf with a skull depicted on it in their wardrobe today? Very few of us, whether we are aware of it or not, remain unaffected by the imagination of this talented yet troubled designer. Alexander McQueen made clothes in classic shapes that flattered the female form accentuating angles and curves but always with an unpredictable twist. Despite the quirks, many of his pieces are timeless, his tartan Givenchy suit (pictured above) a case in point. McQueen’s designs could be fun but often dark and sinister too. Perhaps he put more of himself into them than we can possibly know.
Alexander McQueen would have been 46 this Tuesday. His death, all too soon in 2010, has left us to wonder what he might have come up with next. In his own words, “That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but keep the tradition.” A rule breaker with a passion for the traditional, his vision is missed but lives on; God Save McQueen.