If Savage Beauty portrayed Alexander McQueen, the movie showed us more of Lee, a buffoon, an ordinary guy from East London struggling to follow his dreams while on unemployment benefits. Nonetheless, the movie doesn't fail in portraying a visual album of his work, keeping the meening behind his most famous collections as a focal point. Before the storyline begins, Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui issue one clear statement for the audience: this documentary will be forcefully transparent, embracing the highs and lows of the British designer. This was demonstrated through Alexander's referral to his mentor and initiator into the fashion world, Isabella Blow. Later on she would feel left behing when Lee did not offer her a position at Givenchy, a point which would lead to the degeneration of their relationship.
"The only person who discovered Alexander McQueen was me, no one else discovered Alexander."
-Alexander Lee McQueen
A long time before Mcqueen pushed the boundaries of fashion with his controversial designs, most of his days were spent at home with his friends, dreaming about being a designer. One friend decided to record Alexander, teasingly saying that "these will be the tapes of the famous Lee Alexander McQueen." Ironically, this is how the film begins: with Tape One. The movie is divided into sections called tapes.
"I didn't care what people thought about me...I didn't even care what I thought about myself."
-Alexander Lee McQueen
In the beginning Alexander McQueen was portrayed as a student who, according to his teachers, was a 'trouble maker, always making jokes.' The movie scrutinises the period when he left school and attended an apprenticeship at Savile Row through the eyes of his teachers and supervisors. It is from this shop that he would receive a referral to attend a Master's Degree at Central St. Martins.
This Tape included professors confessing that the designer was more advanced than the rest of the students and he was not shy to show his confidence. One of his supervisors said that "he only left the studio to go and learn more." However, other details from his student life remain unfortunately unknown, as the movie did not include interviews with McQueen's fellow classmates.
McQueen explores, on the other hand, a sensitive subject: the lack of revenue and Lee's financial struggle. In the early days, Lee's only source of inspiration was the London underground punk culture. Alexander was not afraid to addmit that he created a dress that was worth 10 pounds, but after being displayed at London Fashion Week it was worth hundreds of pounds; he would do anything in order to follow his dreams.
During the following Tapes, the meaning behind Alexander's artistic energy was revealed. As a little boy he suffered from domestic violence, which later became one of his demons. After his first collections he was accused of misogyny, as the press did not understand the way he exposed the female body. During the documentary he refers to this practice as an armour for women and a movement against the domestic abuse.
Later on, the movie portrays Lee during his years as a creative director at Givenchy, where he had to suppress his vision in order to please the conservative Parisian fashion. Meanwhile, London remained the place for McQueen to communicate his true self and identity, as well as the place where his fame unraveled.
While his own darkness created a genius artist, Alexander let this side of him affect the relationships with people around him. McQueen explores the ideas and thoughts behind every major collection and shows that were the only way for Alexander to communicate his emotions. While this practice brought him titles such as fashion revolutionist, it also resulted in a fustrating loneliness. Interviews with family members and old friends revealed the way in which the designer would mock and shape the fashion world, while he felt miserable: "a difficult thing to see."
When his mentor and friend, Isabella Blow took her own life, McQueen felt a tremendous amount of guilt and pain, that once again was portrayed during an unforgettable fashion show: La Dame Bleue.
If the suicide of Isabella was hard to accept by Alexander, the loss of his mother, his biggest fan, was something impossible for Lee Alexander McQueen to live with. On the eve of his mother's funeral the brilliant, but lonely, artist hung himself, leaving one last message to the world:
"I was sad but not bitter because I am very grateful for everything I had."
-Alexander Lee McQueen
Placed at the V&A Museum, the Savage Beauty exhibition begins with an illuminated black skull, which metamorphosizes into Alexander’s portrait (an image that obsessed him, according to his ex-boyfriend's interview for McQueen). Blooming flowers and gold details appeared in the first room and they persisted during the entire exposition, suggesting a faded romanticism. Was McQueen a romantic? If you compare his vision to the Dior creations, the answer is no. McQueen’s romanticism is in the meaning, in his thoughts and concepts. He describes himself as a “romantic schizophrenic,” an idea represented with a dramatic intensity during his shows. Savage Beauty kept the music that was playing during his runway collections, maintaining this dramatic intensity that guided the viewers towards McQueen's vision.
Form ball gowns to skirts made out of horse hair. This is how drastic Alexander McQueen can be and the Savage Beauty exposition didn't fail in showing this, as two adjacent rooms could not be more conflicting. One room was filled with gold aristocratic details presenting voluminous embroided gowns and the next one had the appearance of a cave made out of bones, where animal-women and bird-women surveilled you closely. However, McQueen's obsession for detail was not omitted from the show; these two different collections were connected through accessorising feathers, which Alexander frequently used in his work, representing a redirection from light to dark. This collection was inspired from a romantic primitivism: a paradoxical combination contrasting modern and primitive:
“His shows frequently explored the notion of the metamorphic female body.”
-Victoria and Albert Museum
The centrepiece of the exposition was the Cabinet of Curiosities, a three dimensional showcase of McQueen pieces from his most iconic catwalks, as well as one-off creations. The Cabinet of Curiosities integrated all of McQueen's collections into one memorable masterpiece that made you feel like you were experiencing Alexander McQueen's own thoughts. In a double height gallery, each creation was placed on mannequins, which were spinning on a specific song, showcasing the exquisite materials and intricate details.
The first words I wrote on my notepad as I entered this room were: sparkle, spine, metal, butterflies, tulle, geisha, armour. Then, I understood that the Cabinet of Curiosities was a beautiful chaos, that could not be understood but only felt.
The exposition best represented his fascination with the beauty and savagery of the natural world. The Savage Beauty experience can be best described by Alexander McQueen himself:
"Imagine journeys you’ve never dreamed were possible. There is where I will take you. That’s what I’m going to show you.”
-Alexander Lee McQueen
That’s exactly what he did, at V&A in 2015, 5 years after his death.