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.

Hats off to Issy Blow, Fashion Galore indeed!

I feel hungover today. Not from el vino mind you, though it is the festive season in one of the drinking capital of the world. No, I think it’s intoxication of the inspirational kind. You see, I went to see the new Isabella Blow: Fashion Galore exhibit at the Somerset House, London with a friend last night. And she was a living, breathing, walking work of art. Along with  live beautifully lived, if cut a bit too short.


Issy Blow will not everyone’s cup of tea, but she represent such a unique British spirit. A bit aristocratic and eccentric, a heady mix of tradition and punk (in the same vein that Vivienne Westwood is too). Think Lady Gaga, but much more pervasive, seeping deeper into the pore of life. She is a truer heir to the surrealists like Schiaparelli. Though she’s a fashion editor rather than a designer, her discoveries and collaborations extends to her everyday and not just for shows and events. You feel she’s not just out to shock and impress others, but that she really enjoy her outfits and bringing them to life.

And I love how irreverent she can be with those priceless masterpieces of fashion too. I hate it when art is contained, treated preciously, starved of air. (In my youth when I was buying the occasional designer pieces I had similar attitude, wearing them to the painting studio, and yes once or twice gotten oil paint on them.)

The exhibit is of the extraordinary designer clothing, hats, and shoes she owned. They were going to be auction off to pay inheritance tax. But her friend and wealthy heiress Daphane Guinness halted the auction and bought the entire collection. She and other friends of Issy Blow put together this fabulous exhibit.

The collection famously contain Alexander McQueen‘s first collection from his fashion degree graduation show. And there are quite a few exquisite pieces by McQueen, who apprenticed with the fine tailors of Savile Row before getting his degree from the famous Central St Martin. I love his deconstructed tailored looks.

There’s a room full of the finest pieces from his Dante’s Inferno themed Autumn/Winter 1996 show. I wanted to take pictures for design and sewing inspirations, but was told off when the guards caught me after this one and only shot 🙁


I’m seriously considering paying another £12.50 to see the show again and bring along a sketch pad to note down all the inspiring details.

My friend doesn’t sew, so was more into the outre hats. Here are a couple of photos she managed to sneak in before being told off too. Stingy guards!


There are more photos to be found here:

The exhibit is on until 2 March 2014. I highly recommend it. And hopefully it’ll travel to other edgy fashion capitals of the world, like NYC!

In the meanwhile, I must be off hunting for the best books on Issy Blow and Alexander McQueen! I feel so inspired to sew and make art, even if my everyday life can’t be as glamorous as theirs!

Free Alexander McQueen designer kimono jacket pattern

Another one worth sharing while I’m watching paint dry in my sewing room…

Pattern from
Link courtesy of Lisa who left a comment on my kimono post. Thanks!

The McQueen. Really. Looks like fun. Especially as there’s only one size and there’s no indication which it is. One giant origami puzzle from l’enfant terrible of British fashion. Anyone up for a challenge?