Fashion is a kingdom – and when the king, Alexander McQueen took his own head, fashion died. And of course fashion comes back, every season, every day, with relentless collections and handbags and perfume but never will the freedom of 90s Shoreditch be experienced again – and such a unique brand birthed.
The V&A exhibition, which adds 66 pieces to the show from the Met, is an emotional ride from humble, radical beginnings to carrying troupes into the war of international fashion.
I only met the designer once, backstage at a Primal Scream gig with Alister Mackie, the stylist, whom I was helping out last night via Olivier Van De Velde (the archivist and stylist), dressing 101 models in black kilts. Yes – tis a tuff life. But Alexander introduced himself as such that one time, I’d always heard him called Lee, and was as nervous as he may have been, in a golden compound. Although he undoubtedly deserved to be there, he’d probably commuted in from Paris, where he was working as head of Givenchy, before his own line joined with the Gucci empire.
And this exhibition is the story of destruction. Between fabrics and creatures of haunted nights. As with every McQueen show – it is all encompassing, and purposefully overwhelming in its beauty. One of the curators, Louise Rytter kindly guided us around – she’s been working non-stop for 11 months, closely with Katy England, McQueen’s muse, and the wife of singer, Bobby Gillespie. Her influence is everywhere – she’s an artist of the highest calibre and this tribute to McQueen’s talents does him great justice. It is only too sad that he could not run with us around darkened galleries surrounding this new London wing at the cocktail party last night.
After the warehouse-y room of graduate pieces and key tailoring, a breathtaking golden hall of antiqued mirrors bears funereal feathers and Mohican masks by Helen Woolfenden (pictured with Olivier, below). Through hallowed regalness we tread, tartan and red and white. The death waltz continues into a catacomb with the hair-wig coat, and sublime claustrophobia opens into a magical wardrobe, or shoppe, of curiosity. Like a hall of mirrors, video and sound continue to escort this experience – benches – where so many weep at the tragic beauty of lost talent – but he did everything. Every boundary pushed, from razor and mussel armoury to defences of animal horns – no one can save another who cannot be saved. This is an art show.
The collaborations here on video with Nick Knight, couple with perfect set design. Music from Bjork plays with many others…
And after the madhouse video, my favourite of the immersions, comes the ‘holograph’ and light: flowers, and net and Plato’s Atlantis. And then into the gift shop with Fashionaries (a designer’s dictionary with patterns and a sketch pad) and scarves, and books: Nick Waplington’s is there – carrying photos of the working process of the design team: some of which are carried at his current show at the Tate, making Waplington the first living photographer to have a solo show there.
I missed the gift bags with the catalogue, and will have to flick through Vogue to see the event with a flashbulb but it was great to see so many talented friends. There was much collection-spotting, who in what from seasonal themes which read like lines of poetry or album titles. Clues which were not always read as they are retrospectively.
This exhibition is the most marvellous of any sort I have ever seen. It is art. The epitaph of which may read: make fashion. Always.