I have been looking forward to the Alexander McQueen ‘Savage Beauty’ exhibition at the V&A for close to a year now, and I finally got to experience the hype first hand this weekend. I went on opening day, which obviously was very exciting, but also very very crowded. The pushing and shoving and neck-craning did get a little annoying at times but in a way it added to the electrifying sense of sheer intoxication which the V&A managed to convey so well.
Needless to say, perhaps, my expectations were not disappointed. It was breathtaking. I should probably point out now that it was from a fascination with McQueen that my interest in the fashion world really bloomed, so to be completely immersed in the McQueen universe was, well, WOW. You know that sense of overwhelming inspiration that fills you after, say, an amazing play/song/speech or whatever? That. It was a spectacle, a show, an ecstasy of ooohs and aaaahs, sharp intakes of breath and knowing little I-see-what-you-did-there chuckles.
It was also disturbing – in a rocked to the core sort of way – but that fits the subject too; the controversial aggressiveness of McQueen’s work is widely documented. “I want people to be afraid of the women I dress,” McQueen once said – and that the mannequin-women of the V&A most certainly did. The displays mirrored the designer’s passion for unconstrained discipline – every piece is perfect and poised in itself, but offers a glimpse into so much more that is dark and hidden (nowhere more so than in mirrored box from the Voss show *shudders*).
And there are so many pieces! If you have your heart set on a particular look, chances are it’ll be there. For me it was one of my earliest sartorial crushes – a sari-inspired look from The Girl Who Lived in a Tree collection of 2008 – and it was every bit as beautiful as I remembered. The exhibition’s magnificent Cabinet of Curiosities in particular offers a huge double-height space – at least a third bigger than the original Met production – of compartment upon compartment of the atavistic and fetishistic paraphernalia that adorned so many of McQueen’s shows.
When you manage to drag yourself away from what is arguably the exhibition’s piece de resistance, your eyes and soul are offered some respite by the magical vision of a fairy-like Kate Moss in a reconstruction of the ghost hologram from the Widows of Culloden show, also larger than its New York counterpart.
The show closes on the particularly life-inspiring Plato’s Atlantis, and its whispers of a sort of reversal of evolution, of how life is destined to morph back into the waters as the ice caps melt. A touch of sadness is added by the image of McQueen himself, projected behind his shiny creations, waving shyly at the crowd. And yes, there is a distinct lack of info (the captions are small and hard to spot), and particularly a lack of context-giving comparisons to contemporaries and the art world. But it is a spectacular show, and a sendoff indeed. Goose bumps.