London was the epicentre of McQueen’s world and the Victoria and Albert Museum is now paying homage to his extraordinary achievements with an extensive retrospective. The son of a taxi-driver, he grew up in the city’s East End and left school at 15 to become a tailor’s apprentice on Savile Row in Mayfair. In 1990 he joined the prestigious MA Fashion course at Central Saint Martins. Already a highly proficient and inventive tailor, here he learned how to be a fashion designer, drawing inspiration from London’s history, its world-class museums and emerging ‘Brit art’ scene.
Working with a small, closely-knit team, he produced a series of low budget, enthralling and provocative shows set in gritty, industrial locations across the capital. He recalled, ‘There was so much repression in London fashion. It had to be livened up.’
“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” said McQueen and consistently promoted freedom of thought and expression and championed the authority of the imagination. In this, he was an exemplar of the Romantic individual, the hero-artist who staunchly followed the dictates of his inspiration.
McQueen expressed this originality most fundamentally through his methods of cutting and construction. These were both innovatory and revolutionary. He was such an assured designer that his forms and silhouettes were established from his earliest collections, and remained relatively consistent throughout his career.
One of the defining features of Alexander McQueen’s collections was their historicism. While McQueen’s historical references were far- reaching, he was particularly inspired by the nineteenth century, drawing especially on the Victorian Gothic. ‘There’s something kind of Edgar Allan Poe,’ he once observed, ‘kind of deep and kind of melancholic about my collections.’
Like the Victorian Gothic, which combines elements of horror and romance, McQueen’s collections often reflected paradoxical relationships such as life and death, lightness and darkness, melancholy and beauty.
ALEXANDER MCQUEEN SAVAGE BEAUTY 14 March – 02 August VICTORIA AND ALBERT MUSEUM LONDON www.vam.ac.uk