Alexander McQueen Retrospective at V&A, London

British designer Alexander McQueen's work explored, mastered and subverted history, culture, craft & fashion. Famous for deeply relatable imagery and for being unafraid of bringing an audience on a dichromatic journey of dark and light, McQueen provoked imaginations, assertively juxtaposing the familiar with the alien.

You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition.
— Alexander McQueen

His life's work including his incredible posthumous collection were displayed in Summer 2011 at New York's Metropolitan Museum of the Arts under the title Savage Beauty. This exhibition now comes to London's Victoria & Albert Museum, a museum noted for bringing together works that fuse fashion and art not just in their content, but also in their composition, with tickets going on sale today from 

Each of McQueen's collections told a story, treating the wearer and watchers as viewers rather than consumers. As well as being an artist, McQueen was a master craftsman and tailor. Living up to his classical Saville Row training, each piece would be fitted meticulously for the wearer with great attention to detail, as well as to form. Watching the video again from the Met's exhibition, I'm enthralled, just as I was when I first saw McQueen's work for myself in the early 2000s, and can't help but wonder how incredible it would have been to join forces with the designer, a master of cut, sew, construction and embellishment, and to bring to that mix my own storytelling abilities worked out through weaving, in addition to his construction and detailing. Sadly, Lee McQueen, the designer as he was known in his private life, died at the age of 40 in 2010.

McQueen's cinematic approach to both life and fashion was seen in his dramatic runway shows and the sometimes bewildered public response. In a fashion world that looks all around it for finished trends, McQueen subverts the viewer and forces them to look at both the work, the story that comes out of it, and the response it provokes from somewhere inside, unwittingly liberating them to think for themselves.

His final collection, Autumn/Winter 2010, was finished by his right-hand woman, Sarah Burton, and shown in Paris in March 2010. In her review of the show, Jess Cartner-Morley of the Guardian described how, "For fifteen minutes today, in a grand Paris drawing room with soaring white ceilings gloriously flounced with gilt, Alexander McQueen came back to life."

US Vogue in their write up of that Paris show quoted Sarah Burton, who described how, in beginning this collection, McQueen had turned away from the world of the Internet, which he had so powerfully harnessed in his last show. "He wanted to get back to the handcraft he loved, and the things that are being lost in the making of fashion," she said. "He was looking at the art of the Dark Ages, but finding light and beauty in it. He was coming in every day, draping and cutting pieces on the stand." The 16 outfits shown had been 80 percent finished at the time of his death.

His work, in fact, branched outside of Fashion, into other fields of design, and it's fitting that this exhibition is sponsored by Sworovski, with whom McQueen collaborated following an introduction to Nadja Swarovski from his muse and patron, Isabella Blow.

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition. at the MET Museum in New York, 2011.

As in New York, where 660,000 visited the exhibition in 2011, Interest in London is set to be extremely high, and today, the V&A have a notice on their website saying that they are currently struggling with the high level of demand, perhaps even more so, as said Martin Roth, director of the V&A, "Lee Alexander McQueen was brought up in London, studied here and based his globally successful McQueen fashion brand here – by staging the exhibition at the V&A it feels like we are bringing his work home.

The New York Times, in their write up, talk about how although McQueen uses as part of his reportoire, the good old fashioned trick of 'shock', he does so in a way that demonstrates rare skill and talent. "Everywhere there are arresting delicacies. The yellow-green beadwork is so fine it looks as soft as moss. Floral-patterned lace has been cut up, flower by flower, then stitched together again, but only partially, to give a dress the illusion of having being torn." 

A virtuosic grasp of the mechanics of clothes making — cutting, sewing, constructing — became early hallmarks of his design, with drapery skills developing later. He was always a hands-on worker: in art terms, a formalist as much as a conceptualist.
— Holland Cotter, New York Times ART REVIEW, May 2011

Come to the V&A next Spring and witness for yourself the extraordinary creative talent of one a man, who in a celebrated career spanning more than two decades, became one of the most imaginative and provocative designers and storytellers of our time.

Further Reading

Cover Image: Alexander McQueen (British, 1969–2010). Dress, autumn/winter 2010–11. Courtesy of Alexander McQueen. Photograph © Sølve Sundsbø / Art + Commerce - See more at: