Jennifer Meredith explores the V&A’s dramatic retrospective featuring the work of iconic designer, Alexander McQueen

Savage Beauty marks Europe’s first major retrospective of the work of avant-garde visionary, Lee Alexander McQueen, but also the latest in a long relationship between the fashion house and the Victoria & Albert Museum, one which has lasted over 18 years, beginning with a pink jumpsuit from McQueen’s SS97 show, La Poupee. Held in a variety of large galleries within the museum, the exhibition comprises more than 240 pieces of clothing and accessories ranging from his collection as a postgraduate of Central St Martins, to his final designs for AW10, which were completed after his death.


Generous private collectors, including Katy England and Annabelle Nielson, as well as McQueen’s friend and dedicated advocate of his work, Isabella Blow, have donated 66 additional garments and accessories to feature at the V&A during the length of the show, adding to the richness and vibrancy of the designer’s portfolio.


The theme of the exhibit ebbs and flows with the fluctuations of the seasonal collections: Gothic archaisms, raw animalism, heritage and ancestry, and technology. However, the overall theme of Romanticism, a central concept to McQueen’s work from the very beginning, resonates throughout the show. This is evidenced in the systematic appearance of the designer’s most integral fabrics and techniques: lace, baroque embellishments, Swarovski crystals, voluminous silhouettes and subversive tailoring.


Curated by Claire Wilcox, Senior Curator of Fashion at the V&A, the exhibition is based on the highly successful showcase of the same name, held at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2011. Sarah Burton, Creative Director at Alexander McQueen, said: ‘Savage Beauty is a celebration of the most imaginative and talented designer of our time. Lee was a genius and a true visionary who pushed boundaries, challenged and inspired. He believed in creativity and innovation and his talent was limitless.’


Gainsbury and Whiting, the production company that worked with McQueen to stage his extravagant catwalk shows, are also working with the V&A on Savage Beauty, working to bring the collection to life through installation, music and film. One gallery is dedicated to recreating the spectacular moment in which Kate Moss emerged on an AW06 catwalk in a gown of flowing organza, as a three-dimensional holographic image. Visitors can also peruse McQueen’s history in catwalk shows, shown in film footage on the wall of a double-height gallery.


Savage Beauty is a once in a lifetime opportunity to experience the work of this extraordinary talent in its fullest, from his emergence into the fashion industry as a young man, to his untimely death at the age of 40. Showing until 2nd August 2015, the V&A has released a coffee-table book to accompany the exhibition, simply entitled Alexander McQueen. Tickets to the exhibit are available from the V&A reception, online at or by calling 0800 912 6961.


Visit the museum at Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL.


Image credits Victoria and Albert Museum, London