This was going to be no ordinary exhibition … the dimmed lights set the stage for a pageant of creativity that drew from the darkest corners, and the most vivid emotions. With animalistic intent, the exhibition set to tear the flesh from your bones, open your eyes to creativity at its most naked and shake the London fashion world by the lapels.
Alexander McQueen was born in Lewisham, London in 1969. The son of a cab driver father, and mother who taught science. He dropped out of school at 16, found a job on Saville Row, and entered Central St. Martins to earn an MA in fashion design in 1992. His degree art was inspired by the gritty side of London and the darker undercurrents of Jack the Ripper. Never content to skim the surface, he looked for the rips and tears and the silhouettes that move just out of vision.
The exhibition leads you through the formative McQueen, with a tailors workshop display of Saville Row mutations, all underpinned with an elegance and precision of cut that jabbed the fashion world in the eye. He looked at things sideways, and purposely picked the ugliest shape to transform and elevate. Overlong jacket arms cut short at the elbow for arms to jut through, leaving swinging fabric and hipsters cut so low you’d need blue tac to hold them up. Bustles, and nips and tucks, tartan and tears and all so, so precise.
Leaving the workshop and the preliminary fabrication behind, the next steps into the couture creations took you through the wardrobe into Narnia, another world of existential angst and artistry. Savage beauty is exactly that, drawing on primitivism, nationalism, creativism and raw imagination, each room leaving you just a little further submerged, and a little more convinced of the power of an unrestrained imagination. With a proud foothold in his Scottish heritage, and a caustic eye to the English monarchy the courtly room of Kings and Queens was unbending in craft of exquisite creations – the kind of beauty that catches unaware and hijacks your emotions, like Jack the Ripper from the shadows. The rawness of the primitivism with horsehair shaped as hula skirts, feathered dresses, ballroom gowned birds, rhino horns and beaks, clay dragged and smudged, from the primal source.
The next room was a segmented display of pieces, interspersed with video footage, head pieces, jewellery, footwear and a simple crown of thorns in silver that seems to sum up the essence of things, the beauty, and pain of creation and humanity itself. Alexander McQueen dared to go to the extremes, and bring us back a fearless expression of earthy sexuality, bringing forth macabre distortions of form and elevating them to a redemptive beauty.
As we worked our way to the last rooms, the Japanese influenced clothing, mixed with American baseball gear, sack cloth, and exquisite embroidery your mind turns sharp left again, to absorb and reflect, cultural essences extracted and a cloud of perfume dusted towards you. The final room, an homage to our place on the planet and the potential consequences of climate change and out return to an underwater world. An Atlantan odyssey with alien sea creatures, patterns drawn from the ocean, jelly fish and subterranean shapes set to a backdrop of dance music and ceiling high video installations.
What a legacy, that last room felt like we had been lead to the place of light from the darkest corners, reminding us all that it is those that dare to go to the edges, who bring back the richest rewards – for all of us.