I must have typed and erased twenty or so sentences just trying to come up with a way of explaining the way I feel about Alexander McQueen.
I still remember the very first time I became aware of him and his extraordinary talents: I must have been 15 at the time, bored at home and aimlessly flicking through the endless reel of channels Sky had to offer, when I stumbled upon Fashion TV. I wouldn't usually have given the channel a second thought, but I found myself mesmerized by a fashion show unlike any I had seen before. As a teenage emo kid, I had relished in rebelling against the norms of fashion, sticking screws through my school tie and buying as much of Camden my pocket money could get me . My idea of 'fashion' at the time was whatever the popular kids who used to bully me were wearing, so obviously I'd never taken much of an interest.
It was McQueen's A/W 2008 The Girl Who Lived in the Tree collection that I was watching and I was transfixed by the depth of his imagination. The idea that fashion could be so dramatic was new to me. Don't get me wrong, I'd seen couture gowns before, but they never evoked any emotion in me, only a desire to feel what it was like to wear something so exquisite. With McQueen it was different. With each garment I was reminded of historic eras and figures, exotic lands, and fairy tales from my childhood. I longed to know and understand the story and influences behind the collection. I wanted to get inside his head.
McQueen once said 'I came to terms with not fitting in a long time ago. I never really fitted in. I don't want to fit in. And now people are buying into that.' For a lot of 15 year-olds, fitting in and figuring out who you are is a huge social headache that can make things pretty shitty. So to stumble upon someone who was so highly respected and successful in the fashion industry as a result of rejecting conformity and exploring the components of himself and his imagination that set him apart from others was not only comforting, but inspiring.
I followed and immersed myself in McQueen's past and present work, amazed that there was no end to his talents and lust for challenging conventions and making people think.
There was a huge black hole in the world of fashion after his sudden suicide in 2010.Having followed his work so closely, I always got the impression that his mind never stopped and that his thoughts were sometimes quite chaotic. I think everyone mourned his talent and was saddened at the fact that such a personality had been lost.
I was gutted when I found out the Savage Beauty collection was going to the Metropolitan Museum in America. Considering McQueen was British, and a lot of his work showcased how proud he was to have lived in London, I do think it's a shame that we've had to wait four years for the exhibition, but now that it is finally here, I implore anyone with a love of not only fashion, but art, expression and creativity to go and see it.
Featuring pieces from his early fashion career that have never been showcased before (not even at the Met) this retrospective exhibition is an opportunity to see up close collections that are mind blowing when viewed from behind a computer screen, but up close are simply surreal and outrageously intricate.
Even though the drama of the shows themselves are gone, the V&A have done a spectacular job of recreating the tension and thrill, with music from the shows playing as you take in not only the clothes, but the striking rooms in which they are set. From a cavern with walls covered in skulls and bones to a room that looks like it's been lifted out of a royal palace, the garments look at home in these settings.
You can't help but spend a good 5 minutes on each piece, trying to glue it to your memory, hoping you never forget the razor-sharp tailoring or the astounding craftsmanship.
I do have a few gripes with the exhibition however. Firstly, some of the pieces weren't lit as well as they could have been. I can't be alone in wanting to see the shoes of an outfit, yet many of them were impossible to see due to the lighting only focusing on the main garment. Lighting was also an issue when it came to trying to read the notes that went along with the collections, which were almost always impossible to read. But the thing that upset me most, was that McQueen himself was missing from the exhibition. Those behind the exhibition have failed to mention the context behind each collection, which I feel is crucial to understanding the person behind the creations. McQueen used his work as a way of making controversial points about societal topics he was aggressively passionate about. That grit is absent, and as a result I feel we as viewers only get half of the story.