Thursday 1 December 2022

Exploring the Man Behind the Myth: Fashion Designer Alexander McQueen

Stella Tennant wore Alexander McQueen's dramatic design for the first look of his It's a Jungle Out There collection, Autumn-Winter 1997-98. Face veil by Sarah Harmarnee. Photograph: Robert Fairer 

Melbourne's National Gallery of Victoria has a major new exhibition, Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse, opening next week. This is the first Australian show to explore the work of the avant-garde British fashion designer. His creations from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the NGV Collection are juxtaposed with artworks showing his inspirations and influences, reports Antonio Visconti 

McQueen in happier days, backstage
at his Pantheon as Lecum collection, 
Autumn-Winter 2004-05. 
Photograph: Robert Fairer
Alexander McQueen was one of the most avant-garde fashion designers of the late twentieth century, celebrated for his conceptual and technical virtuosity. 

Both shocking and critically acclaimed, his work mixed superlative tailoring with his startling explorations of art and culture. His brilliant career was cut tragically short by his suicide in 2010 when he was 40 years old. 

The new exhibition, organized by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) with the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), is unique to Australia. It includes 60 garments and accessories drawn from LACMA, plus 50 designs by McQueen from the NGV Collection.

The show aims to provide deeper insights into how McQueen worked by looking at 70 historical artworks including painting, sculpture, photography, decorative arts and works on paper and how these references influenced his designs. 

"Juxtaposing Alexander McQueen’s designs with artworks in a wide range of media opens up a new perspective on his process and artistic legacy. We are thrilled to share this groundbreaking exhibition with Australian audiences," said Michael Govan, director and chief executive officer of LACMA.

Both shocking and critically acclaimed, McQueen's collections mixed marvelous tailoring with his explorations of ideas and art

The evocative Widows of Culloden 
collection Autumn-Winter 2006-07.
Photograph: Robert Fairer
Models: Hana Soukupova, 
Daria Werbowy, Gemma Ward
& Raquel Zimmerman
The artworks alongside McQueen's designs evoke his creativity and the way he tells stories with each collection. The show features examples of the designer’s earliest and most acclaimed collections, including the controversial Highland Rape, Autumn-Winter 1995–96 and the poetic The Widows of Culloden, Autumn-Winter 2006–07. 

Both take inspiration from McQueen’s Scottish ancestry. Other highlights from the show, include Deliverance Spring-Summer 2004 as well as his final complete collection, Plato’s Atlantis Spring-Summer 2010. 

"Alexander McQueen is beloved for his boundary-pushing and highly conceptual designs that set him apart from his contemporaries," explains Tony Ellwood, director of the NGV. 

"With meticulous craftmanship and an intellectual rigour seldom seen on the runways before or since, he created a new vocabulary for fashion design that still resonates today."

The exhibition also features commissioned headpieces by Los Angeles-based artist and designer Michael Schmidt, as well as garments originally owned by McQueen’s muses Isabella Blow and Annabelle Neilson. 

Planned around four themes, the exhibition shows McQueen’s work across different phases of his career. The three collections inspired by mythological and religious belief systems, are grouped together and illustrate his visual references taken from a plethora of cultures and art movements. Another section looks at collections with dramatic narratives that reimagine past historical events.

The artworks alongside McQueen's designs evoke his creativity and the way he tells stories with each collection

McQueen's brutalist Horn of Plenty
collection,Autumn-Winter 2009-10.
Photograph: Robert Fairer
Model; Kamila Filpcikova
Several explore his own family history, such as Salem, 1692, Autumn-Winter 2007–08, which describe McQueen’s antecedents in colonial Massachusetts including a woman who was one of the first to be executed in the Salem witch trials. 

The Widows of Culloden, Autumn-Winter 2006–07, was an interpretation of the designer's Scottish heritage and the brutality of the British in Scotland during the 1746 Battle of Culloden.

Closer to his own home, an ancient elm in the garden of McQueen’s Sussex home, inspired a story written by his friend and muse Annabelle Neilson. 

This led to his combining British and Indian history with punk references for the whimsical The Girl Who Lived in the Tree collection, Autumn-Winter 2008.

McQueen was fascinated by both the fragility of existence along with the possibility of regeneration.  The Horn of Plenty collection, Autumn-Winter 2009–10, was a critique of mass consumerism, which McQueen emphasized by recycling his own archive and famous silhouettes from fashion history. 

The Dance of the Twisted Bull, Spring-Summer 2002, portrayed bullfighting as a metaphor for brutality and beauty, while Deliverance, Spring-Summer 2004, presented an allegorical “dance to the death” inspired by the film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? McQueen's last complete collection, called Plato’s Atlantis, Spring-Summer 2010, imagined a world consumed by the ocean.

McQueen was fascinated by both the fragility of existence along with the possibility of regeneration

An exquisitely cut and embroidered
creation from McQueen's Girl who 
lived in a Tree collection,
Autumn-Winter 2008-09
Photograph: Robert Fairer
Model: Danielle Hamm
The savagery and sense of power he managed to create in his works, expressed even in McQueen's earliest designs, include the show's garments from the NGV collection: Banshee, Autumn-Winter 1994, Highland Rape, Autumn-Winter 1995–1996, and The Hunger, Spring-Summer 1996. 

One of the most interesting aspects of the show is the examination of McQueen's innovative and technical mastery in tailoring. 

He was very skilled at constructing his designs and experimented with new fabrics and technologies, such as laser-cutting and digital printing. 

By contrasting works from different periods of McQueen's career, the exhibition highlights his formative years as an apprentice Savile Row tailor and his later metamorphosis into a sophisticated fashion designer capable of expressing complex ideas through his peerlessly fluid drapery.

 Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse runs from 11 December 2022 – 16 April 2023 at NGV International, St Kilda Road, Melbourne.

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