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Redefining Beauty: McQueen Retrospective at the V&A

by Abi Buller

Alexander McQueen

Both nationally and internationally, the recent emergence of the V&A’s Alexander McQueen retrospective has been a much anticipated affair for Art and Fashion lovers. Following on from New York’s 2011 MOMA tribute to the British designer’s legacy, the V&A welcomes a vast collection of the designer’s work, which spans over two decades of his career.


The London location could perhaps not be more apt for the designer’s retrospective, as the exhibition notes how McQueen honoured the city, and used its rich diversity as a great sense of inspiration throughout his life. Having grown up in the East End, before becoming a Tailor’s apprentice on Saville Row, and then enrolling on the prestigious MA Fashion course at Central Saint Martins, the designer focused his energy on revolutionising London fashion. Looking back on his collections, McQueen stated: ‘There was so much repression in London fashion. It had to be livened up.’

Fashion Week

Staged in a dramatic and spectacular setting, the exhibition curation (by Claire Wilcox) is a reflection of this notion, and the experience becomes an immersive, sensory journey into the mind of McQueen. With eerie voice audio clips from the designer accompanying viewers throughout the exhibition, McQueen’s desire to be remembered as the central identity of 21st century fashion seems to have been granted. Similarly, his statement ‘I’m going to take you on journeys you never dreamed were possible’ lends itself to the artist’s controversial creations. With collections ranging from ‘Highland Rape’; a reflection of his unsettling vision of femininity inspired by his Scottish heritage, to his last collection ‘Plato’s Atlantis’, the extensiveness of McQueen’s imagination is reflected in this extraordinary display of talent.


Whilst the strong messages behind McQueen’s creations often forced viewers to confront abjection, his vision and talent seemed to strike a perfect balance between beauty, obscurity, and perverseness. This idea reiterates the appropriation of the exhibition title ‘Savage Beauty’. Having worked with Swarovski crystals, as well as milliner Philip Treacy, an exquisite element of delicate beauty is also apparent in much of the displayed garments and accessories, whilst maintaining a desired obscurity.


Coined as McQueen’s greatest achievement, the final collection on display ‘Plato’s Atlantis’ leaves viewers with the sense that the designer’s legacy truly lives on. His futuristic vision is apparent through the collection’s amalgamation of technology, design talent and showmanship. This vision is further continued in the final room of the exhibition, as an ethereal hologram of Kate Moss is displayed leaving viewer’s with a fragile, but striking enchantment of artistic performance.


Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, at The Victoria and Albert Museum

14th March-2nd August 2015

Abi Buller is a Ba (Hons) Creative Direction for Fashion student at London College of Fashion, with a strong interest in culture, arts and media.


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