Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, V&A

The genius of Alexander McQueen is a mystery to most… which is perhaps why the new exhibition at the V&A is so popular, giving a rare insight into the renowned and courageous designer.

This grand retrospective of McQueen’s career has transferred from its original home at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. However as Lee was born and taught in London it feels even more monumental at the prestigious V&A museum. Appropriately named Savage Beauty, this exhibition illustrates the brutal but beautiful aspect of his creations. The artist said about himself: ‘I’m a romantic schizophrenic.’

The tailoring is stunning. There are several rooms which display pieces from Lee’s studies and earliest collections. He learnt from a variety of highly skilled masters and worked hard, using the classic techniques to create unique pieces. He gained experience at tailors Gieves and Hawkes and theatrical costumiers Angels and Bermans. McQueen strongly believed that before you can be creative you need to be technically en pointe.

The exhibition has little narrative, instead the rooms are divided by theme and collection. The Highland Rape collection was particularly memorable and shows Lee’s loyalty to his Scottish heritage. The sculptural outfits are daring and striking, made almost entirely in the McQueen tartan print, the clothes make the women look powerful and imposing.

The ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ is hypnotising, an enchanting room of fairytale accessories and garments made from unusual and unlikely materials. Each exhibit is a work of art, a technical tour de force. There is a dress made of razor clam shells and a headdress of butterflies. The clothes are intended to provoke and sometimes even disgust… but even the mud covered dresses and sinister leather zipped masks have sublime qualities.

The final room has a hint of the supernatural. Alien-like figures are dressed in figure-hugging animal print dresses. My favourite was a fully sequined iridescent frock which I stared at for ages imagining myself strutting down a catwalk beaming with confidence.
This is the immortal feeling that McQueen clothes give you, elevating you a magical version of your former self, brilliantly different and weirdly wonderful.

This extravagant exhibition immortalises the great Alexander McQueen, showcasing his imaginative and elaborate designs that will be forever inspiring to the fashion world. One thing’s for sure, there is so much more to McQueen than the commercialised skull print scarves. His vision is completely deserving of the V&A platform.

Exhibition continues until August 2, more information and book tickets here.

Hollywood Costume, V&A

The Hollywood Costume signs have adorned the streets of South Kensington for a few months now. Every time I walked past I felt pangs of pain that I was not one of the many Londoners who had seen John Travolta’s white Saturday Night Fever suit in the flesh, stared adoringly at Dorothy’s ruby red slippers and witnessed the outfits of our best loved superheroes: Spiderman, Batman and Catwoman.

Turning up for my slot on a Thursday morning, I assumed the exhibition would be quiet, aside from a few tourists yet to return home after the Christmas break. I could not have been more wrong, the place was heaving, crowds of queuing fans, each desperate to get a glimpse of their favourite character’s costume. Overwhelmed by the excitement and stifling lack of space, I decided my visit would have to be brief.

The exhibition explores the central role of costume design – from sensitive and subtle to extravagant and glamorous. In this grand show there are over 130 iconic costumes, each designed for unforgettable cinema characters over a century of film-making. There are three galleries to enjoy:

Deconstruction: The exhibition starts with an introduction to the role of the costume designer in cinema. By illustrating the link between clothing and identity, the viewer can begin to understand how designers create a character though costume.

Dialoque: This room examines the relationship between filmmaker or actor and the costume designer, and how they work closely together to create a character visually. The Dialogue section includes two close case-studies of Robert De Niro and Meryl Streep who discuss the importance of costume and how crucial it is in developing a character.

Finale: The sparkling final room concludes the exhibition with some of Hollywood’s most memorable moments, presenting the best known costumes from cinema history.

For me it was lovely to see the early outfits that hark back to stars of the past: suits from Charlie Chaplin’s silent pictures and Holly Golightly’s little black dress worn by Audrey Hepburn in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. As well as exhibiting the clothes beautifully, and often props too, the V&A manages to outline a brief narrative for each costume… explaining the important features and giving some context.

I loved the whole exhibition but it is the final room that really thrills… seeing these magnificent, famous costumes in the flesh, which provide such an important role in preserving the memory of a character, it is easy to dream of your favourite film star standing before you in the flesh.

Continues until 27 January 2013.

More information and booking here.