This week, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty will open at the Victoria & Albert Museum, following a sell-out run at the Met in New York.
From provocative early catwalk shows The Hunger and Highland Rape, to the late designer’s last fully realised collection, Plato’s Atlantis, the exhibition will feature almost two decades of his work.
London was the epicentre of McQueen’s world. The son of a taxi-driver, he grew up in the city’s East End and left school at 15 to become a tailor’s apprentice on Savile Row in Mayfair, where he famously sewed profanities into the lining of a jacket destined for the Prince of Wales.
In 1990 he joined the prestigious MA Fashion course at Central Saint Martins. Already a highly proficient and inventive tailor, here he learned how to be a fashion designer, drawing inspiration from London’s history, its world-class museums and emerging ‘Brit art’ scene.
As London is McQueen’s hometown, the exhibition has expanded since it was originally shown in New York, where during the final weeks of the show, the Met had to stay open until midnight to cope with four-hour queues. It also offered 17,000 people $50 tickets to allow them in on a Monday, when the museum is normally closed. The show was eventually seen by 650,000 people.
Among unseen work this time around is a red ballet dress from his 2008 autumn/winter collection, The Girl Who Lived in the Tree, and a white feathered dress from The Horn of Plenty, his last, feted 2009 show in Paris, just a few months before his suicide. There are also rare early pieces borrowed from private owners, such as his friend Annabelle Neilson.
The production company that collaborated with McQueen on many of the catwalk shows, Gainsbury and Whiting, has worked with the museum and a gallery has been dedicated to recreating the spectacular moment in one show when a supermodel appeared as a holographic image, dressed in rippling organza.
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty is at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London SW7, from 14 March to 2 August.