Pressure grows to stage the New York exhibition in London
A major retrospective of fashion designer Alexander McQueen, which closed its doors at the end of July, at New York’s Metropolitan Museum, may come to London after all. The exhibition took New York by storm, celebrating the life and work of this ground breaking innovator. Audience attendance records for an exhibition by a fashion designer were shattered between opening on May 4 and closing on August 8th. “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” attracted 661,409 visitors, ranking it alongside other major Met blockbuster successes like Mona Lisa (1963) and Treasures of Tutankhamun (1978.) Demand was so high that the Museum extended the exhibition’s run by a week, staying open until midnight on the last two nights.
McQueen’s extraordinary contributions to fashion from his Central Saint Martins postgraduate collection of 1992 to his final runway presentation, which took place after his death in February 2010, challenged and expanded the understanding of fashion beyond utility to a conceptual expression of culture, politics, and identity. His iconic designs constitute the work of an artist whose medium of expression was fashion. The exhibition featured approximately one hundred ensembles and seventy accessories from Mr. McQueen’s prolific nineteen-year career. Drawn primarily from the Alexander McQueen Archive in London, with some pieces from the Givenchy Archive in Paris as well as private collections, signature designs including the “bumster” trouser, the kimono jacket, and the three-point “origami” frock coat. McQueen’s fashions often referenced the exaggerated silhouettes of the 1860s, 1880s, 1890s, and 1950s, but his technical ingenuity always imbued his designs with an innovative sensibility that kept him at the vanguard.
The exhibition was organized by Andrew Bolton, curator, with the support of Harold Koda, curator in charge, both of The Costume Institute. Sam Gainsbury and Joseph Bennett, the production designers for Alexander McQueen’s fashion shows, will serve as the exhibition’s creative director and production designer, respectively. All head treatments and masks were designed by Guido.
“You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition.” – Alexander McQueen
London born and educated, dubbed ‘enfant terrible’ by the fashion press, Alexander McQueen became one of the youngest designers to achieve the title ‘British Designer of the Year’, which he won four times between 1996 and 2003. In 2003 he was awarded a CBE and named ‘International Designer of the Year’ by the Council of Fashion Designers.
After leaving school aged 16 he began work at Anderson and Shepherd, the Saville Row Tailors before moving on to Gieves and Hawks, Saville Row, and the famous theatrical costumiers Angels and Bermans. At 20 years of age McQueen began working for the Japanese designer Koji Tatsuno, who was constructing clothes from antique cloth, followed by the designer Romeo Gigli, who was enthralled with Alexander’s unique esoteric tailoring that few had mastered and employed him immediately.
He returned to London to complete an M.A at St. Martins College of Art and Design, where his final collection gained him extensive press coverage, before launching his own label in 1992. Influential fashion stylist Isabella Blow purchased his entire graduation collection.
He was appointed head designer at Givenchy in 1996, succeeding John Galliano. In December 2000 the Gucci Group acquired a majority share of McQueens own company, and he continued to serve as Creative Director. McQueen’s sometimes stormy relationship with Givenchy ended in March 2001.
Over the next ten years McQueen opened stores in London, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Milan. Collaborative works included working with Puma on a special line of trainers; launching McQ, a younger, lower priced collection; the launch of Kingdom and My Queen fragrances; and a collection of cosmetics designed for MAC inspired by Elizabeth Taylor in her role of Cleopatra. His designs were worn extensively by celebrities including Nicole Kidman, Sarah Jessica Parker, Bjork and Lady Gaga.
In February 2010, shortly after his mother’s death, McQueen was found dead in his London flat. His memorial service was attended by 2,500 guests, including the celebrities who wore his designs and friends and colleagues from the fashion industry.
According to Grazzia Magazine the Victoria & Albert Museum stated “we would love to host the exhibition, we have spoken to the fashion house about it as we really want to present McQueen’s work to our huge fashion and design audience here in the UK.”They are currently running a petition to bring McQueen back to the V&A so the UK can celebrate one of the great talents of the last century.