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Monday, 23 March 2015

Savage Beauty: GarconJon meets Alexander McQueen, London's Savage Beauty

I had the privilege of experiencing the work of Alexander McQueen when I was invited by American Express, an early supporter in the designers career, to the press preview of Savage Beauty at the V&A. As I didn't have the chance to attend the New York Met exhibition in 2011, my anticipation to see this show in London was high. Luckily, it didn't fail to meet my expectations.

Savage Beauty creates a world of McQueen, similar to the way he was able to build one for each of his collections. As a multi-sensory experience I was immersed in sound and vision, led room by room through a story that slowly revealed itself and although the curation itself was astounding, it was seeing the creations up-close that left a lasting impact. I found myself staring up at head-dresses of glass and overcoats made from seashells baffled by, not only the fabrication, but also the concept itself.

What the exhibition optimistically does more than anything is eloquently portray 'opportunity': the kind that arises when talent, time and focus is applied. It's the designer's story that sticks with you once you leave, remembering that this was a boy born to a working class family in Lewisham. As we live in an age where rags to riches tales are 10 a penny, exaggerated by reality television, it's easy to overlook the truth behind Lee Alexander McQueen's life. He took the difficult route, leaving school at 16 and going to work on Savile Row. Today, I'm sure this would have peer credibility, but at the time Savile Row was in a slump and it's renaissance was not even a glimmer of hope in the mind of the Mayor of London. Working first with the tailor shop Anderson and Sheppard then with Gieves and Hawkes, he was able to gain the gritty skills that are required for men's tailoring. It's this area of his life that captures my imagination most, not only as my interest is with menswear but because I can imagine the struggle and determination he must have had.

Although Savage Beauty is filled with designs for women, his menswear background is clear to be seen throughout. Detailed construction and complex fits underpin all of his designs - two elements that would undoubtedly be missing without his education in tailoring. It wasn't until 2004 when he launched his first official menswear collection under the McQueen label and in many ways I can't believe that 11 years have passed so quickly. I clearly recall the first collection and accompanying film (seen below) where his irreverent 'Britishness' shone through in every way - my favourite being the Prince Of Wales check wool that was boil-washed and embroidered creating a classically McQueen design, dragging tradition to a new era. In that same year, American Express collaborated with McQueen to bring his work back to London after several seasons away, at the American Express: Black Event. For me this was a peak: the return to London which tells so much of his story, the launch of menswear and the support from a well-known brand demonstrating his appeal.

A person's name doesn't earn the label of 'household' without reason and Savage Beauty so perfectly portrays the reasons why. The journey I was taken on reflects McQueen's own transition from schoolboy to master and left me inspired to be creative myself, push the boundaries and try something new. Over the past two years I've done so much work within the 'Street Style' realm that I've almost forgotten the breadth of possibilities in photography. Watch this space for something new, inspired by Alexander McQueen, very soon.

See more info on Savage Beauty at the V&A website: