Months ago, I received a Facebook message from a friend who wanted to get a group together to visit the Alexander McQueen exhibition- Savage Beauty- when it arrived in London. It’s reputation had landed from New York before the exhibition had even got here itself. At first, I was very up for going. Then I saw the ticket price -£16, which is not great for a girl on a budget. For that reason, I turned her down.
Since I moved to London, I have visited the Victoria and Albert museum- where the exhibition is being held- twice. Whilst there, I saw adverts for the exhibition, people queuing to get in and souvenirs in the gift shop. I was very tempted to go. Then a couple more friends expressed interest in going and eventually I caved. I set up a Whatsapp group, messaged every friend who had suggested going and we set a date.
It is recommended that tickets are bought in advance but I’m not a massive fan of planning that far in advance- and tickets seem to sell out weeks in advance. It is possible to get tickets on the day but only a limited amount are available on the day (a minimum of 200) and the museum recommends getting there at 10am, when it opens, in order to secure a ticket. Even then, it may be that you get a later time slot and so have to come back later.
On the Easter Bank Holiday weekend, we knew it was going to be busy. We queued to get into the museum and then we had to queue for our tickets, and it was not a short queue. Thankfully though, each of my group of five were able to get a ticket for the 10.45am time slot, giving us about 20 minutes to nip to the beautiful museum cafe (see featured image above) for brekkie.
Soon enough, we were inside the exhibition and I quickly realised that it was worth every penny- and not just because it was considerably more extensive than I’d realised. Several of McQueen’s designs, from a range of his collections were displayed in various rooms. The rooms themselves had been decorated with an amazing eye for detail, reflecting the character of the collections as well as really showing them off. They were as much a part of the exhibition as the clothes. The mannequins were also decorated though, sometimes with elaborate head pieces, often with gimp masks.
“You take inspiration from the street, with the trousers so low. You don’t need to go to India, you can find it in places like Bethnal Green and Brick Lane.” Lee Alexander McQueen.
The highlight of the exhibition, for me, were the selected items from McQueen’s “The Girl Who Lived In The Tree” collection, with designs inspired by English royalty.
Judging from the way I dress now, my friends may not believe that once upon a time, I was fashion obsessed. I was set on being a fashion journalist, I had a Vogue subscription (and I’ve kept hold of every copy), I could recognise the work of individual designers and I kept a scrapbook of bits and pieces I ripped out of my other magazines (I could never rip up Vogue), which included basically every piece of designer clothing included in their pages. I loved it- it was beautiful- and Alexander McQueen was one of my favourites. It was his regal The Girl Who Lived In The Tree clothes that graced the pages of my scrapbooks and now I was looking at it in person.
My favourite room, however, was the Cabinet of Curiosities, a room full of mirrors and McQueen’s pieces, reaching up to the high ceiling, making a few pieces kinda hard to spot. It felt like some distorted fashion toy store.
Each outfit came with details about materials and who had donated it. These information plaques were interspersed with quotes from McQueen himself and videos from his totally unique shows. Each room had an introduction and were arranged by theme as opposed to show or chronology, to the disappointment of one of my companions. The information on hand focussed more on the shows and McQueen’s inspirations as opposed to him himself. At the time, I was a bit surprised but I am less so in hindsight- after all, the show is about his work and that alone gives an insight into who he was. I did wonder how the clothes could ever translate to being off the runway but sadly there wasn’t really anything about their reception. Having said that, I did think the odd jacket would have been good for work. There was in general less information than I may have expected as well, however I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing as I could spend more time enjoying the clothes themselves (there was a book available in the gift shop but this was multiple times more expensive than the exhibit).
From dresses made from feathers to alien shoes which I’m not entirely sure I could stand in, let alone walk, every piece was unique and dynamic. Inspirations ranged from historical influences (there was Victorian Gothic aplenty) to McQueen’s own Scottish heritage (i.e. his MacQueen tartan) and many of the clothes had a darkness about them and they all appeared to empower the wearer and emphasise their sexuality. “I want people to be afraid of the women I dress” was one of McQueen’s quotes and that inspiration wasn’t difficult to see. I think if I wore some of his designs, I would probably scare myself. Although that may be because I’m afraid of heights and those heels were huge.