Savage Beauty, Savage Mind

Earlier this week I was fortunate enough to attend the press preview and opening party of Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  I postponed my travel schedules especially for these occasions because I have been a long time admirer of Alexander McQueen. I wished I could have seen the original exhibition in New York, but due to work commitments, I missed it. So when it was announced that the exhibition was coming home to London, where Lee McQueen got all his inspirations from, I was very excited.  In a way, this might have been even better because after all, Lee McQueen was a true Londoner. He had always said time and time again that one could find everything in London and that this city was the source of all his inspirations. For his work to be exhibited in the museum where he constantly came to find new ideas throughout his career was a true honour and would have been what he had wanted.

Highland Rape AW1995

I am not going to write you a report of what each exhibit is about etc. etc. because there are plenty of information about that on the internet and various books. Since I am not exactly a fashion insider nor a fashion scholar, I will most likely get it wrong. Also I feel that this exhibition is very personal and I am sure that anyone who is fortunate enough to visit it would come out of it with different story to tell. So, instead, I decide to write what I feel most intriguing about this exhibition, and what I learnt from my brief experience of witnessing the work of twenty-first century’s legend that is Alexander McQueen…

Cabinet of Curiosities

To me everything about the man is an enigma, full of paradoxical relationships which resonate in all of his creations.  His body of work are hauntingly beautiful… his unorthodox yet traditional ways of working… his tortured yet romantic soul… his ability to see beauty in everything in life no matter how common or mundane… his focus and desire to succeed in life… The list of my fascinations of Lee McQueen and his work is endless…

Romantic Gothic: Black feather with exagerated shoulders
Romantic Gothic

The exhibition is not in a chronological order but in thematic order, which is a much more engaging way for the public to be able to experience his thought process. Each section always begins with the word “Romantic” because that is how Lee sees the world around him… the beauty in everything even the ugly and the mundane, even in death and decay. Each creation is exquisite in the detail and execution, yet there is something about his work that is so sad, it evokes a rare combination of feelings in me throughout the time I spent at the exhibition because even though his creations are intriguing and absolutely stunning to look at, they feel so painful, so melancholic… it hurts. I feel as if there is something very dark inside his tortured soul that has been expressed throughout his work.

Highland Rape AW1995

Within each section, there is a quote from Lee McQueen himself which gives us a glimpse of who he is as a person and his thought process for each era of his collection. One particular quote that stands out and stays with me is the quote on his Savage Mind 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.” This refers to his early training on Savile Row in London where he said “Everything I do is based on tailoring”, his technical expertise as the apprentice tailor before he was given a place to study an MA course at Central Saint Martin’s. It is this approach to fashion that makes his work so unique and legendary, the combination of precise and traditional tailoring and pattern making techniques with the improvisations of draping and dressmaking. An approach that became more refined after his tenure at the House of Givenchy in Paris. He is at once rigorous and impulsive, disciplined and unconstrained, which resulted in the masterpieces he creates for his Haute Couture Collections. What I find most memorable about this quote is that I agree completely with this line of thinking, which is actually applicable for other creative professions too. It is important to know the rules before one break them because it allows designers to push their ideas to the limits and manifest into something truly unique and exceptional. When designers ignore the basics yet try to come up with something avant-garde and groundbreaking, often times they fail to produce anything substantial. At most, the products tend to have shock values but completely mediocre upon a closer look. A true genius, therefore, is a master of his craft who is able to use all the resources and inspirations available to him to break the norm and create something new.

Romantic Nationalism: The Girl WHo Lived In The Tree AW 2008
Romantic Nationalism: The Girl Who Lived In The Tree AW 2008

A lot of McQueen’s inspirations come from nature, especially birds and the skeletal study, which is particularly emphasised in “Romantic Naturalism” where razor clam shells, antlers, horns, feathers, hairs are used to create the dresses, which evoke a certain fragility and rawness to each piece. He is also the master of distortion, when it comes to body proportions, which intriguingly, the exaggerated shoulder width, elongated spines etc. all result in the creation of a rather powerful and confident silhouette of a woman, something which he has no doubt learnt from his time as an apprentice tailor at Savile Row.

Romantic Naturalism
Cabinet of Curiosities: Butterfly Headpiece

It is obvious after experiencing the exhibition that Alexander McQueen is “the real thing”. He is at once a visionary, a rebel, an artist, a man whose imaginations are so inventive and original that it captures the world’s attention. However, most important of all, he possesses the ability to truly manifest his dreams into reality, which is the hardest part for anyone to achieve. After all, anyone can dream and have ideas and be creative, but not many have the determination, the focus, the technical skills required to materialise them into reality. It is clear to me that the likelihood of witnessing someone like Alexander McQueen again in my lifetime would be zero to none, but the exhibition serves as a reminder and a testament of what a person can achieve in one life time through determination, hard work, perseverance and the confidence to believe in oneself, no matter what the world throws in one’s way, even when one comes from nothing.

The Writing On The Wall Sums It All…
My moment with McQueen

I highly recommend anyone who happens to be in London between now until 2 August 2015 to see the exhibition, even if one does not particularly follow fashion because the body of his work is much more than just fashion. Although tickets are sold out for the first few months, an extra 200 tickets are being released every morning at the V&A if you come to the museum in the morning. You may see the world differently after your visit to this exhibition.  For more background information about Alexander McQueen, please see the video below…






Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.