Savage Beauty is not only an art collection, loads of questions will cross your mind during your visit. One that crossed ours is the amazing work models did to re-create this genius world. Alexander McQueen would select his models personally, he would always ask about their strengths so he could tear it all down before the show.
Pushing the models to work outside of their comfort zone, would create anxiety and causing them forget their individuality. When you are walking on top of his famous “armadillo shoes” your focus is not on yourself, but to avoid tripping over, you leave the runway wondering if it was your best catwalk show ever.
As you watch the TV screens in the Cabinet of Curiosities you begin to wonder if the model has become part of the work she appears in, whether it is this garment made strikingly from bright red feathers, in ‘The Girl Who Lived in the Tree’ (autumn/ winder 2008), or the dress made entirely of clam shells, designed to break under her feet as she walks along the catwalk, illustrating the fragility of fashion, or a skirt, bolstered by a whole petticoat of oysters shimmering in the light, connecting her back to nature. The girls are almost shaped as much as the clothes, as they merge with the artwork, occasionally lost in the underworld steeped in a gorgeous black ball gown in ‘Romantic Gothic’, this fantasy of defiance, fashion as a mechanism for protection and beauty.
The models were put under rain, wind, snow and fire having to carry elaborated sculptures and walking on top of uniquely shaped shoes they were soon prompted to ask in advance about collections and mise-en-scene before agreeing to appear in a McQueen show.
Whether you enjoy walking into a box of illusions, or being surrounded by the sounds of Adagio for Strings, water, birds, typing, violin or a music box to accompany the mannequin of the famous show where Shalom Harlow wearing a canvas dress; de-faced by spray painting guns (1998). Or would like to see yourself in the glass box of the VOSS show (Spring/Summer 2001), where you catch a glimpse of the other viewers looking back at you – until the lights come-up to illuminate the models inside, as the silver screen is lifted and shattered to the floor, this show is as inspiring experience.
Throughout the years McQueen became known to have only the bravest models and those capable of letting this “inside beauty” imbue his work. These girls are true performers giving life to his wild and magnificent imagination.
As McQueen works with his models as walking works of art, expect to be inspired, via non-conformity, the height of craftsmanship, experiencing a deep unwavering desire to stay connected to nature, to explore cultures, as well as his awe inspired courage and individualistic abandon. Where art is the powerhouse of shock and awe and his shows were known to challenge in the most exciting, brutal, extraordinary and beautiful way.
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty opened at the V&A on 14 March and will run to 19 July 2015; Admission £16 (concessions available). Members go free. Advanced booking is advised at vam.ac.uk/savagebeauty or 0800 912 6961