“I am a romantic schizophrenic,” Alexander McQueen once said.
The work of designer Alexander McQueen, whose untimely death in 2010 was one of the contemporary art world’s greatest tragedies, served at every turn as an iconoclastic rebuke to the shibboleths of the fashion world. A Savile Row tailor by the age of sixteen, the precocious couturier proved to be one of those rare and indispensable insiders with the courage to excoriate the very establishment he belonged to. He was brash, bold and, above all, brilliant – a transcendent creator who deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Damien Hurst, Matthew Barney, Marina Abramovic, and the artist
who seems to have played midwife to his particular weltanschauung, Francis Bacon.
Now, the collections that electrified the runways of Paris and Milan have decamped London. The exhibit, ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’, presented by the Victoria & Albert Museum in London from March 14th to August 2nd, draws from the breadth of McQueen’s work and explores, as fully as possible in a single exhibit, the ground-breaking designer’s vast stylistic palate, his fascinations with exoticism and the gothic, and his unrivaled gift for subversive and often disturbing juxtapositions, the product of a temperament fully engaged with the ferment of post-modern Western angst.
Viewers planning on attending the exhibit should prepare to be unsettled just the same. There is a darkness in McQueen’s work that evokes what William James referred to as ‘sublime terror’, a paralysis in the face of strange, and not necessarily benevolent, gods. The absence of sentimentality, the existential coldness in these clothes, can be brutal – something like the nihilistic honesty in the films of Gaspar Noé. It is, quite honestly, a discomforting and, yes, savage beauty.