FIRST LOOK: Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty at the V&A

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Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

“I am a romantic schizophrenic,” Alexander McQueen once said. Haunted by a preoccupation with the exotic and the untamed, his words echo throughout one of London’s most anticipated exhibitions this year: Savage Beauty, presented by the Victoria & Albert Museum.

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“London’s where I was brought up. It’s where my heart is and where I get my inspiration.”

Growing up in the East End and then becoming a tailor’s apprentice on Savile Row in Mayfair, McQueen found London to be his epicentre of inspiration. The first section of the exhibition, London, is a tribute to this and includes garments from McQueen’s MA graduate collection in 1992.

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“I want to be the purveyor of a certain silhouette or a way of cutting, so that when I’m dead and gone people will know that the twenty-first century was started by Alexander McQueen.”

This is the focus of Savage Mind, the space beside London that highlights McQueen’s innovative cutting techniques and technical artistry – something he went on to master while serving as creative director of Givenchy in Paris.

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“People find my things sometimes aggressive. But I don’t see it as aggressive, I see it as romantic, dealing with a dark side of my personality.”

Things take a sinister turn as you walk through Romantic Gothic, combining elements of horror and romance. McQueen’s style was often a reflection of paradoxical relationships such as life and death, melancholy and beauty.

“I don’t think like the average person on the street. I think quite perversely sometimes.”

A dimly-lit passage leading to a cavern lined with bones and skulls, Romantic Primitivism, transports you to McQueen’s fantasy of “the noble savage living in harmony with the natural world.” His Autumn/Winter 2000 collection, Eshu, featured materials like hair, beads, latex and mud.

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“The reason I’m patriotic about Scotland is because I think it’s been dealt a really hard hand. It’s marketed the world over as haggis and bagpipes. But no one ever puts anything back into it.”

Romantic Nationalism, a grand celebration of the MacQueen Tartan and the British Empire, highlights McQueen’s fascination with his Scottish heritage and Britain’s colonial past during the twilight years of the British Raj.

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“I find beauty in the grotesque, like most artists. I have to force people to look at things.”

Arguably the main highlight of Savage Beauty, The Cabinet of Curiosities is presented in a double-height gallery, showcasing more than 120 garments and accessories. Mannequins spin around as screens that line the walls play footage from various McQueen catwalk presentations.

What’s a fashion exhibition without Kate Moss? Pepper’s Ghost recreates the finale of the Widows of Culloden (A/W2006) catwalk show, where Moss is shown as a holographic 3D image, floating in a sea of organza.

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McQueen’s interests in Eastern cultures (Romantic Exoticism) and his passion for the wild (Romantic Naturalism) make up the final few rooms. The grand finale being Plato’s Atlantis, the last fully realised collection the designer showed before his death in February 2010.

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“The collections at the V&A never fail to intrigue and inspire me. The nation is privileged to have access to such a resource… it’s the sort of place I’d like to be shut in overnight.” It seems as though McQueen got his wish.

Savage Beauty runs from the 14 March – 2 August 2015. Admission: £16 (concessions available). V&A Members go free. Advance booking is advised – Online (www.vam.ac.uk/savagebeauty) or in person at the V&A.