Alexander McQueen’s Savage Beauty comes home to roost

Alexander Fury
Screen Shot 2014 04 25 at 01.23.28 Alexander McQueens Savage Beauty comes home to roost

The finale of Alexander McQueen's autumn/winter 1998 collection - Paul Vicente/ AFP/ Alexander McQueen RTW A/W 1998/ Getty Images

London’s Victoria and Albert Museum today confirmed that next year they will present the exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, a retrospective of the work of the late British fashion designer originally staged by the Costume Institute of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011. “Lee Alexander McQueen was brought up in London, studied here and based his globally successful McQueen fashion brand here,” said Martin Roth, the Director of the V&A. “By staging the exhibition at the V&A it feels like we are bringing his work home.”

Born and raised in London, Lee Alexander McQueen was undoubtedly one of the most designers to work in fashion – in any country, and at any time. His work was consistently ground-breaking: Savage Beauty ably charted his exceptional tailoring, romantic ball gowns, and the extremes of fashionable styles uneasily tinged with frissons of sadomasochism, bestiality, death and decay.

Like the controversial work of the artists dubbed “YBAs” in the late nineties, McQueen’s designs pushed aesthetic and conceptual boundaries to such a degree they were reset in the public consciousness. Example? His mid-nineties “Bumsters”, trousers where a low-riding waistband provocatively revealed the cleavage of the buttocks, were precursors to the decades ubiquitous “hipster” silhouette. And his theatrical shows, involving everything from rings of fire (Joan, autumn/winter 1998, above), to a lifesize hologram of Kate Moss, to robotic arms spray-painting the model Shalom Harlow, have redefined the way we look at fashion presentations.

If the work is ground-breaking, the exhibition was also record-breaking: staged with all the spectacle of a McQueen catwalk show, Savage Beauty garnered international plaudits and attracted over 661,000 visitors – 80,000 in its last week, when the museum stayed open until midnight to sate attendance demand. Over 100,000 copies of the accompanying catalogue were sold.

Those impressive figures pushed Savage Beauty to top ranking the most popular of all shows staged at the Met’s Costume Institute since 1946, and the eighth most visited in the august Museum’s 144-year history. That positions the McQueen retrospective alongside exhibitions showcasing the treasures of Tutankhamun (1978), the Mona Lisa (1963), and 2010’s Picasso retrospective in terms of popularity – which, in turn, places Alexander McQueen’s work as part of a heavyweight continuum of cultural forces that define their respective oeuvres, while also enjoying mass recognition.

Anticipating a similar demand on home shores, the Victoria and Albert Museum confirmed that tickets will be offered for sale from 10am today – almost a full year before the exhibition’s scheduled opening on 14 March 2015.

An edited version of this text appears in the 25 April 2014 edition of The Independent

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