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I read a lot of reviews about Savage Beauty, the retrospective of Alexander McQueen, before it even arrived in London. People wrote about feeling emotional, but I just thought it was arty types being a bit dramatic. I love fashion, and I’m even lucky enough to own some McQueen items, but at the end of the day it’s just clothes, right?
I was proved spectacularly wrong.
The exhibition was an attack on the senses with different music in every room, quotes from the man himself emblazoned across the walls, visuals moving behind and above pieces; it made my heart beat faster and was verging on unnerving me but really it just ended up pulling me in further. After seeing the collections altogether, I realised that was exactly the point; from the ‘bumster’ jeans to dresses woven with hair, it was all about finding something beautiful in the uncomfortable. It’s not clothes for the masses, it is to make a woman feel utterly unique and celebrate her form. With every piece, no matter how restricted or exposed they would be, I couldn’t help but desperately wish I could wear them. Just looking at them I knew I would feel powerful, strong and god damn beautiful if they were on me.
McQueen was influenced by history and pop culture and noticing the references from room to room made me feel an affinity with him and gave me an understanding of his work where an encyclopedic knowledge of Vogue was missing. Similarly too when I saw pieces that I feel are iconic, like the armadillo shoes, the butterfly headdress and the spray-painted dress; I may not have been interested in them when they first graced the catwalk, but I very much recognised them from their important place in fashion culture since then.
When we entered the Cabinet of Curiosities I was totally overwhelmed. From floor to ceiling there were garments, accessories and screens showing catwalks; it was noisy but the crowd were completely silent, utterly absorbed in it all. We ended up spending over half an hour in there, attempting to see everything but I’m pretty sure we failed; there was just too much and my eye would catch one thing and stare at it for minutes at a time until my neck started to ache. Similarly, the hologram of Kate Moss dancing ethereally in a stunning organza gown almost brought me to tears – it was simply magical.
I left feeling exhilarated and overwhelmed. I bought the beautiful hardback book that accompanies the collection so I can forever remind myself of what a total privilege it is to have seen McQueen’s work so lovingly curated and so cleverly put together so that it told his story to those of us who previously knew very little.