Tuesday, 2 June 2015


One of the first garments by Alexander McQueen featured at the V&A was a soft pink jumpsuit as part of its 1997 exhibition, Cutting Edge, a showcase of British designers of the twentieth century. Eighteen years later, Savage Beauty is dedicated solely to the McQueen and features over two hundred of the designer’s creations, from his MA collection at Central Saint Martins to the final set of garments he designed in 2010. Amongst the exhibition are items from some of his most memorable shows: Highland Rape, The Girl who lived in the Tree and Voss to name a few, laced together with quotes written on the walls and recordings of McQueen’s voice.

Savage Beauty captures the key themes throughout McQueen’s work well. A ghostly hologram of Kate Moss (the finale of the 2006 show, The Widows of Culloden) and a dress eaten away by silkworms show the designer’s fascination with decay, while gowns of skin, fake hair and dried flowers show the way McQueen’s designs also took influence from the natural world. For McQueen, fashion wasn't just about creating pretty pieces (although his designs are damn stunning). His shows were a theatrical performance, an idea that Savage Beauty, through its use of film, performance and media reflects.

What's really breathtaking when seeing the garments close up is the way McQueen took the most fragile materials and transformed them into something so much more powerful: a corset made of glass, gimp masks encrusted with tiny black pearls and structured frocks made from flowers that look as though they would crumble at the first touch. At the heart of the exhibition is the Cabinet of Curiosities, a trove of beautiful oddities: a corset made of metal coils, towering armadillo shoes and fierce headdresses while, in the centre, a paint splattered dress revolves around slowly in an echo of McQueen’s Spring Summer 1999 show. The last room in the exhibition shows McQueen’s final collection, Plato’s Atlantis, set in a futuristic underwater world. With structured shoulders and pronounced hips, the rich metallic minidresses are a perfect example of McQueen's signature tailoring. 

Savage Beauty celebrates McQueen's imagination and creativity, his talent for tailoring (an understatement) and the way he blurred the boundaries between art and fashion. We're calling it a must see exhibition.

Words by Anam Rahim
All images c/o Victoria and Albert Museum, London