Usually, I carry a small notebook and pen around with me, but on Saturday I left them at home thinking them superfluous to my day ahead.
All the way through the Savage Beauty Exhibition at the V&A, I wished I had been able to note down the thoughts and questions popping in to my mind, as I wandered through the stunningly displayed body of Alexander McQueen’s work. I had taken a fashion-mad teenager, and was expecting to meander around in their wake, vaguely interested. But actually, I was blown away.
- Pin sharp tailoring turned once uniform lines into something recognisable yet unfamiliar.
- Clothes that were not such much garments as structures, often rendered unwearable by their very design (it seemed to me).
- Shells, bones, feathers, bits of hair, forcing the wearer/aesthete to absorb the proximity of the natural world, and decay.
- Headdresses that hid faces and shoes that surely made walking (and probably standing) an impossibility.
Spectacular. But also…….what?
I’m often bemused/irritated by, male designers who produce fashion shows of clothes unwearable by any woman with a healthy BMI who has passed puberty. It makes me wonder what their work says about their understanding of, feelings towards, women. Savage Beauty had my brain firing all over the place in this respect.
McQueen is quoted as saying that
Fashion should be a form of escapism, and not a form of imprisonment.
Which I couldn’t match up with the restraining nature of his clothes; these were not clothes to be worn whilst living, they were clothes to be admired and appreciated by someone other than the wearer. The collars that rise so high that they obscure the face, or the headdresses that cover it completely, plunge McQueen’s woman into a solitary world where she have no way of connecting with those around them. Oh yes, a word about the head coverings; McQueen said that he was inspired by National Geographic and wanted to highlight the plight of women condemned to live this way by their culture. Doing this by making money off the back of apparently emancipated rich women by similarly constraining them seems like a cynical way of doing so to me, but what do I know?
However, McQueen did talk about women having strength
“It’s like the Story of O, I’m not big on women looking naïve”.
And I could see where he was coming from with that, his clothes highlighted and offered parts of the body that might otherwise be kept covered in public, something his models would indeed have had in common with O
“ I want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.”
But empowered? I don’t think so.
I suppose, in my mind McQueen saw women as somewhat mythical creatures; perhaps from a fairy tale, to be controlled and restrained, whilst admired from a distance. His women were not approachable, not people to be in relationship with. Perhaps that reflected how he ultimately felt? He acknowledged the unbearable
“I oscillate between life and death, happiness and sadness, good and evil”
Was loneliness a part of this?
Is it too simplistic to suggest a Madonna/Whore struggle, in the man who was inspired by Jack the Ripper but who also depicted Kate Moss as an ethereal, virginal hologram, and who was apparently driven to suicide by the death of his own mother?
Probably, but whatever need lay deep in his psyche, his clothes were stunning – not always pleasant or comfortable, but stunning.