McQueen V&A Savage Beauty exhibit

iPlayer-VaA-McQueen-tour I’m a bit peeved. I went to this show recently and was told photos were verboten. Yet I just checked out Tinie Tempah’s tour of the exhibit on BBC iPlayer and there were plenty of visitors – including him – who had their camera phones out. Humph.

Instead I was reduced to under-prepared sketching: I should have printed out some croquis so that I could focus on filling in the style lines rather than struggling to conjure up the body forms to support my pencil & paper garments. I suppose I should be grateful that V&A even allowed sketching. The Isabella Blow exhibit at Somerset House I went to a while ago didn’t even allow that. And there were a few choice McQueens there. But all this meant that despite spending a couple of hours there I was too preoccupied to soak up the atmospheric themes.


I don’t know if the iPlayer video will play outside of the UK, but if you’re a fan I’d definite recommend watching it. While no substitute for getting close and personal with the creations – some are much more impressive in person than in photos, the video does take you through all the rooms and show some garments in more details. Alternatively you can try the Savage Beauty exhibit pages on the V&A website which has other videos and some photos of the rooms. Photo credit: V&A website

I guess I must be a fan since I came home with yet another McQueen book (my 4th).  I was expecting the exhibition book to have the same content as the NYC Met version – maybe with the supposedly extra outfits laid out for this McQueen’s home game. But actually it’s totally different inside. So I couldn’t resist.

As for the outfits, to be honest a lot of them are over the top even for me (by which I mean impractical – it’s harder to shock me with clothing). But I do like how most of them still have very strong and clear silhouettes. Sometimes avant-garde gets so messy that it looks like a giant ball of exploded fabric stash. Most McQueens you can still see the human silhouette, albeit exaggerated sometimes.

A lot of the beauty for me is in the details, and the specific executions of what by now aren’t entirely new ideas – sorry die-hard McQueenies. For me being the first doesn’t make you the best. Great ideas can be ruined by poor executions in design or production.

In his tailoring there are lots of interesting style-lines that you rarely see in the commercial patterns. Yet they yield silhouettes that are simultaneously classic and modern, controlled yet edgy. I also love the Romanticism in the textures, patterns, and material he used. That’s Romanticism of the dramatic variety – the realization of the ephemeral nature of life & beauty – rather than the valentine roses variety. The shredded hem, raw edges, frayed or rough texture mixed with traditional crew embroidery, etc. It will be these details that I turn to for inspirations rather than trying wholesale copies, which could be tedious, difficult and unrewarding.

The other thing that I like about McQueen is the fearless way he cut into his works-in-progress, shocking the talented ladies at Givenchy Altelier who work cautiously and precisely. My own obsessive cautiousness bugs me from time to time. So it feels vicariously liberating to watch the way he worked, as shown in this other BBC video (YouTube version below, also on iPlayer if you have access)…

Granted he had proper training. Novices like us would be hard pressed to achieve the same results were we to attack fabrics in the same manner. Nonetheless it’s a reminder not to lose sight of the forest for the trees…an advice I blatantly ignored during my visit and now wished I had spent an extra half hour just soaking up the atmosphere.

EXHIBIT INFO: up until 2 August 2015, tickets still available (limited in May, more June onward – advance booking advisable) and cost from £17.50. At the Victoria & Albert Museum, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL.

2 comments on “McQueen V&A Savage Beauty exhibit

  1. Ah, now I remember how I found your blog, the Isabella Blow exhibit!

    I had to choose between a trip to San Francisco to see the High Style exhibit and staying in a hotel, and traveling to London for the McQueen and sleeping on the street (I’m old, the hotel won). Thanking you sincerely for this glimpse, and the info about the book. McQueen was an amazing creator/tailor/designer and the world really is less because he’s not alive.

    • You’re very welcome! Totally sympathize with needing a proper bed. London & NYC are so exorbitant when it comes to hotel costs aren’t they.

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