Savage Beauty at the V&A: The eternal gift of relentless inspiration
May 4th, 2011: the Savage Beauty exhibit – which showcased the unparalleled talent and creative genius of one Alexander McQueen – opened at the Costume Institute of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. Its popularity was such that it broke attendance records at the museum. The enthusiasm and buzz generated by the exhibit was palpable, nearly electric; something particularly poignant given the fact that Alexander McQueen had passed away a little over a year before the exhibit’s opening.
On March 14th this year, McQueen returned home: the Savage Beauty exhibition opened its doors at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, in an even more stunning incarnation. It’s no wonder, for the V&A was McQueen’s intellectual home in many ways. During his formative years and throughout his career, the fashion genius could frequently be seen perusing the glorious and detailed archives of the V&A, in search of inspiration and affirmation. TaleAGuest had the honor to visit the Savage Beauty exhibit at the V&A, and the least we can say is that it was a transforming, life-changing experience.
Claire Wilcox, Senior Curator of the exhibit, did a stunning job in threading together the many facets of Alexander McQueen’s sublime creativity. His work was so ahead of its time, and so superbly crafted; that it constantly crossed the line between fashion and art. The kind of beauty he created was a manifestation of his dreams, but also of his nightmares; it was a way to transcend the human spheres and reach into immortality, while in the process unleashing the power within every woman. The savage aspect of humanity was something he insisted on emphasizing; indeed, there is a purity to its violence, and also an ethereal and fragile condition which made his most delicate and feminine pieces all the more captivating. McQueen’s portrayal of beauty is one that challenges and almost alienates onlookers; but it’s also heart-wrenching and endearing because of its nearly ephemeral personality.
The mark that Alexander McQueen left on the spheres of art, fashion, and popular culture is immortal and indelible. His catwalk shows were always an event, and from what we learn at the exhibit, they were more important for the designer than the actual selling of the clothes. Nobody could be indifferent to a McQueen show – and still, even now, one cannot help but be shocked, awed, and incredibly moved, by what one sees at the V&A Savage Beauty exhibit. When we talk about high fashion, what comes to most people’s minds are the exorbitant price tags of each garment; however, when we think of Alexander McQueen’s pieces (whether it’s just as garments or as works of art) the first thing we think about is a luxury of the mind. The amount of spirit and creativity displayed in each piece; along with the superior levels of craftsmanship and the outrageously original choice of materials (feathers, microscope plates, glass, animal bones, shells, etc); leaves one almost gasping for breath. Everything McQueen ever did was instilled of passion, genius, excellence, truth, and beauty.
Every garment is an experience.
While browsing the exhibit, it was difficult to hold back the tears: partly because we were awed by its sheer subversion; its exquisite tailoring, and the enormous imagination displayed by the late designer. The other part of us was just terribly sad to know that McQueen’s genius, while it lives on, is no longer part of the realm we currently inhabit. Perhaps some manifestations of beauty are too large for a single mind to encase. With his death, Alexander McQueen gave us access to the perennial and timeless beauty that inhabited the wildest and most intricate corners of his mind. That is, and will always be, his greatest gift to us all: an inspiration that will continue to evolve, breathe, and live, for years and years to come.