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V&A launches Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty

Visionary fashion designer Alexander McQueen’s work is celebrated in a special show of 240 of his ensembles and accessories

Originated by the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Savage Beauty has been edited and expanded for the V&A’s large exhibition galleries. It features 66 additional garments and accessories, including some rare early pieces, lent by private individuals and collectors such as Katy England and Annabelle Neilson as well as pieces from the Isabella Blow Collection and the House of Givenchy. A new section has been added to the exhibition, focusing on McQueen’s early London collections. Other new garments displayed include a red ballet dress from The Girl Who Lived in the Tree (A/W 2008) and a white feathered dress from The Horn of Plenty (A/W 2009).

Gainsbury and Whiting, the production company that collaborated with Alexander McQueen in staging his catwalk shows has worked with the V&A on the exhibition. Each section captures the essence of McQueen’s provocative, dramatic and extravagant catwalk presentations, through installation, music and film. For example, a dedicated gallery is used to recreate the spectacular moment where Kate Moss appeared in a gown of rippling organza as a holographic 3D image, or Pepper’s Ghost, for the finale of the Widows of Culloden (A/W 2006) catwalk show.

​Portrait of Alexander McQueen 1997. Photographed by Marc Hom. © Marc Hom / Trunk Archive

Another feature of the exhibition that has been expanded at the V&A is the Cabinet of Curiosities. Presented in a double-height gallery, interspersed with film footage of nearly all of McQueen’s catwalk shows, it showcases designs produced by McQueen in collaboration with fellow creatives such as the milliner Philip Treacy and the jeweller Shaun Leane.

In total, the exhibition includes more than 240 ensembles and accessories, the largest number of individual pieces designed by McQueen and collaborators ever seen together. They range from McQueen’s Central Saint Martins’ postgraduate collection of 1992 to his final designs for A/W 2010, completed after his death, and are drawn primarily from the Alexander McQueen archive in London. The thematic presentation of the exhibition reflects McQueen’s Romantic sensibility and interrogates ideas and concepts central to his work, including: his subversive tailoring; his Gothic sensibility; primitivism and the animal world; heritage and ancestry; nature and the natural world; and technology and handcraft.

The V&A was one of the first museums to show McQueen’s work in 1997 in the exhibition Cutting Edge: 50 Years of British Fashion 1947-1997. He was also represented in the Fashion in Motion series in 1999 and with Shaun Leane in 2001, and was one of 11 designers represented in the exhibition Radical Fashion in 2001 which showcased works from his Voss collection (S/S 2001).

Installation view of ‘Romantic Nationalism’ gallery 2015. Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A

Martin Roth, Director of the V&A, said: “I am thrilled that this magnificent show has come to London and feel passionately that the V&A is its natural home. Lee Alexander McQueen presented his work here during his lifetime and studied the Museum’s wide-ranging public collections of tailoring, painting, art, photography and books as inspiration for his visionary design yet remained vigorously anti-establishment and a true provocateur.”

Admission £16 (concessions available). V&A Members go free.