Following his death in 2010, the Alexander McQueen retrospective in New York was perhaps just as hotly anticipated as the ready-to-wear shows at NYFW. The exhibition promised to look back on both a man, and his art- an art form that saw fashion pushed out of its comfort zone. This year saw a developed version of this exhibition arrive back in McQueen’s home town of London. Critics say that this time round the exhibition allows for a more personal and uncensored look at his work rather than the raw state of shock that somewhat defined the exhibition in New York in the wake of Lee McQueen’s sudden passing.
A glum day in March, when the sky over London possessed a Dickensian character and faces bore ruddy complexions from the wind and rain, seemed the most apt day to visit the exhibition. Not because the exhibition should be shrouded in silly pathetic fallacy and a depressive state of mourning, but because McQueen’s work was inspired, in part, by the simultaneous contradictions of nature’s beauty and harshness, as well as at times grim Victorian London and Gothic romanticism. none of which, I suspect, are as easily found in glorious sunshine than on a day when weather-vanes spin and barometers tremble in their mahogany cases.
As a designer, Lee McQueen was a pioneer and that is exactly what comes across at the exhibition. Compared with the glossy tales told at retrospectives of French couture, Hollywood glamour, and other similar fashion showcases, innovation and provocation is just as evident as the usual brilliance. The exhibition is a dramatic spectacle to mirror McQueen’s remarkable shows and is full of the most incredible designs spanning McQueen’s illustrious career, including pieces from his very first graduate show, where his Savile Row roots are apparent, right through to his final (and unfinished) works. The haunting voice of Lee introduces each room and adds another dynamic to this sensory masterpiece.
Challenging the predictability and very definition of fashion by using clothes as an extension of his uncensored imagination and as products of his inspiration (which included romanticism, the Highland Clearings, and Darwin) many of the pieces on display both enchant and create discomfort synchronously. I found myself in awe of the beauty, skill and incredulity of his creations but also slightly disturbed by what I saw. Before the exhibition I don’t think I had ever fully understood McQueen’s work, and whilst I don’t think I’ll ever fully comprehend it (but I think, like art, it’s a case provoking thought and reflection more so than finding answers) I now have a much better and more considered appreciation of it. Although it does then make you wonder what direction the label is going in now. Lee’s creation’s are inexorably linked with ideas of death, decay and metamorphosis and bear little resemblance to the commercial pieces we see on WAGs, or even the pristine dress worn by Kate Middleton on her wedding day.
With those tricky questions to one side, I really would recommend this exhibition to anyone, and don’t let the queues put you off. The exhibition is spacious and designed so well that even at maximum capacity it never felt uncomfortably overcrowded. The hologram mirage of Kate Moss is the central point of the show and is one of the most innovative elements of an exhibition I have ever seen. It was utterly breathtaking and hauntingly beautiful. For this alone, it would be worth a visit!
For tickets click here.
For more information about the exhibition click here.
NB: No cameras were allowed, so pictures are courtesy of Victoria and Albert Museum London