In May 2011, New Yorkers mobbed the pavement outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art waiting to see Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. The first retrospective of the designer’s work, just a year after his death, broke box-office records, its 661,509 visitors making it the eighth-most-visited exhibition in the museum’s history. This March, unless you’ve been living under a rock, you will have heard that McQueen has come home.
From March to August, the Victoria & Albert Museum is presenting the first and largest European retrospective of McQueen’s work – advanced ticket sales of 30,000 have already broken its own records. The V&A show inherits its predecessor’s overall curation, but adds a third space, elaborating on certain themes and focusing on the city where McQueen lived, worked and saw his spectacular career unfold. Londoners will be pleased to see that 40 previously unseen objects will be on show, as well as a gallery dedicated to the ghostlike hologram of Kate Moss that closed his autumn/winter 2006 show, The Widows of Culloden. Known for his collaborative spirit, McQueen worked with photographic artist Nick Knight, jeweller Shaun Leane, milliner Philip Treacy and Björk. He also collaborated with welders, glassblowers and even prosthetics makers, famously designing legs for amputee athlete Aimee Mullins, which she modelled on the runway for his spring/summer 1999 show, No.13. Many of these long-standing friends and allies have helped out on the new show: Sam Gainsbury and Anna Whiting, who produced his fashion shows, have worked on the design, stylist friends Katy England and Annabelle Neilson have lent pieces from their personal archives, and Leane and Treacy have both remade key pieces.
The V&A was always a special place for McQueen, from visits as a child with his family to studying its textile archives as a Central Saint Martins student, through to his contribution to the museum’s Fashion in Motion series. Now, with Savage Beauty, McQueen is returning to the place he so loved and fulfilling an oft-stated ambition: reaching an audience far beyond the insular world of fashion.
Text by Nazanin Shahnavaz
Portrait © Marc Hom / Trunk Archive