I wished I could say that I have always loved Alexander McQueen. The fact of the matter is, I didn't know his work very well to have an opinion. While I do know that he was (and still is) an influential designer, I never properly understood why.
When news broke that he was found hanging in the closet of his London home many years ago, I was just a rookie fashion journalist. I knew that, like the many fashion lovers, I was to feel sad about the passing of a design genius. But why?
Of course, I have watched countless videos of Alexander McQueen shows. I remember my favourite looks from the different collections and remember how much in awe I was at the recreation of "They Shoot Horses, Don't They" for his spring/summer 2004 presentation. But, in all honesty, I never knew why he was greatly celebrated.
Over the years, I've seen many celebrities gracing different red carpets wearing some of McQueen's work. But what is it about the frocks that made them so irresistible and so... "heaven-sent"?
A few years ago, while attending Paris Fashion Week, I received an invitation to watch McQueen's spring/summer presentation.
Granted, the label was already helmed by Sarah Burton then but the exquisite pieces that were shown on the runway left me in awe. It was a collection inspired by honeycombs and bee-keepers and what won me over was how intricately made each and every look was.
A quick research on Google revealed that Burton, while toning down on McQueen's signature macabre design vibes, kept to her late boss' design ethos. It was very much McQueen as it was a Burton exclusive.
Slowly, but surely, I began to understand why McQueen was such an important designer.
This week, I had to opportunity to visit the Alexander McQueen retrospective at London's Victoria & Albert Museum. Called Savage Beauty, it is a recreation of the uber popular exhibition first put up by New York's Metropolitan Museum of the Arts a few years ago. More than 700,000 people visited the New York retrospective, making Savage Beauty one of the most visited exhibitions ever put up by the museum.
The London edition was an expansion of the one in New York. It was edited to talk a little more to the city where the designer was born and learned his craft.
From the moment I stepped into exhibition hall, I was intrigued. There, displayed on platforms and draped over mannequins, were some of McQueens best works.
I stopped and gawked at every single frock on display and wonder at its technical accomplishments – a dress of clams; a skirt made from plywood, how fascinating! It was then that I truly realised what a genius he was. Many of these clothes are exceptionally beautiful; they’re as close to being works of art as fashion ever comes.
McQueen described himself as a “romantic schizophrenic” and the introductory spiel proclaims him a “hero-artist” on a par with the poets and painters of the Romantic Movement. We are told that “his dark imaginings elicited an uneasy pleasure that merged wonder and terror, incredulity and revulsion. Like an artist of the Romantic Movement, unfettered emotionalism sustained his profound appreciation of beauty.”
McQueen, as we are told during the exhibition, designed from the side, which is the body’s worst angle. This was to ensure that his clothes worked all the way around and fit properly. So, his apprenticeship on Savile Row did do him some good.
All throughout the exhibition, the pieces on display gave off this feeling armoury. Looking at it up close, it was no doubt that they suit tiny, stick-thin women like Isabella Blow or Daphne Guinness. But, as London's The Guardian pointed out, the possibility exists that they will look good on regular females too.
McQueen’s dresses and jackets smooth and sculpt and, courtesy of their often unconventional twists and turns, cleverly distract from all the things a woman most wants to hide. The fact of the matter is, no one will notice if you have a belly when your waist is wrapped up in a beautifully embroidered obi. And why care about your unflattering jawline when you can hide behind a well-constructed jacket that, surprisingly, makes you look taller?
Indeed, McQueen was a true artist and while he could have chosen to express his creativity in many other mediums, he chose to do it through his designs.