The V&A's retrospective of the career of Alexander McQueen, Savage Beauty, has been heralded as a "work of art", while Suzy Menkes described it is "a visual treat even more potent than the original version at New York's Metropolitan Museum in 2011". Last week, we were lucky enough to be invited to a private dinner and tour of the exhibition hosted by Nadja Swarovski, and we'd like to share some highlights of this incredible evening with you!
The event began with a cocktail reception in the sculpture galleries at the V&A, and an introduction from Claire Wilcox, the curator of the exhibition. As she explained, McQueen's use of materials was at the forefront of his creative vision, and Swarovski had been instrumental in supporting and encouraging this innovation. As Nadja Swarovski mentioned later in the evening, she had been introduced to McQueen by Isabella Blow, after expressing a desire to find and work with the most exciting and talented designer in London. Nadja wanted to take Swarovski back to its high fashion roots; their crystals having originally been used in Paris couture by the likes of Chanel, Balenciaga and Christian Dior. It was clear to her that McQueen was the person to do this for a modern era, and this was how the decade-long collaboration between Swarovski and McQueen began.
"I was like a wild child when I got to Swarovski. I wanted to have everything, to touch everything. And I don't just want to use crystal - I want to invent something new" - Alexander McQueen, 1998
As the guests were split into smaller group for our private tours, we were lucky enough to be taken to explore by the curator; Claire Wilcox herself. She had known McQueen for many years, in her role as fashion curator at the V&A, where McQueen would have private appointments to meticulously research their historical collections. It is a great accomplishment for the exhibition not only to be held in a setting which was so important to McQueen, but also to be curated by Wilcox, who witnessed his creative process first hand. The exhibition begins with a display of some of McQueen's earliest pieces, including dresses made from shredded lace, plastics and PVC - as Wilcox explained, these were the cheapest fabrics he could find and all he could afford at the time, but even so, he demonstrated incredible precision and attention to detail with these pieces. Tailoring is also a focus of this early part of the exhibition, and shows the influence of McQueen's time spent training on London's Savile Row. These precision tailoring techniques are subverted by McQueen to create the infamous 'bumster' trousers and skirts, a new addition to the exhibition for London and the V&A.
As we moved through the different rooms, each focusing on a different collection, it did feel as though we were part of McQueen's journey - this was as close as possible as feeling part of the creative process itself, and a glimpse into the mind of this visionary designer.
Wilcox spoke throughout the evening of the shows themselves, which seemed to not only be a spectacle but always an emotional and extremely personal experience for those present. It was clear that this emotion and drama was something Wilcox had wanted to capture in the exhibition, and this was done expertly through the use of sound, video, movement, sheer spectacle, or even all of the above, as is the case in the awe-inspiring Cabinet of Curiosities.
As the tour came to a close, the group really seemed lost for words and knew we had been part of something very special, and incredibly lucky to have had such personal insights from Claire Wilcox. The exhibition is a fitting tribute to the late Alexander Mcqueen, and one that is bound to inspire a new generation of designers to come.
If the tour wasn't satisfying enough (it definitely was), we were then led back to the sculpture galleries to enjoy a beautiful dinner. We were in great company, seated with the editor of In Style, Charlotte Moore, and lovely designers Barbara Casasola and Hannah Martin.
It truly was a magical evening and Nadja Swarovski was a fantastic host. If you haven't seen the exhibition yet, we suggest you book immediately!