Fashion designer Alexander McQueen once said: “If you want to know me, look at my work.” The Australian will soon have the opportunity to do just that, with a major exhibition exploring his designs and influences in December at The National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) opens.
60 garments and accessories will travel from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (Lacma) to Melbourne for Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse, and 50 designs from the NGV archives.
Katie Somerville, senior curator of fashion and textiles at NGV, describes the museum’s existing McQueen collection as a “real strength”—hence the fact that the NGV exhibit is nearly twice the size of Los Angeles.
NGV began sourcing McQueen designs in 1995, just three years after he founded his namesake label in London, and its collection also includes pieces from McQueen’s tenure at Givenchy in France, where he worked from 1996 to 2001 . Even after his death in 2010, the gallery continued to acquire McQueen designs, and the fashion house is currently led by creative director Sarah Burton.
Clarissa Esguerra, associate curator of clothing and textiles at Lacma, said it was an exciting time, “when we first started talking with our colleagues at NGV and realized they had donors like us and could expand the exhibit and make it becomes very special”.
McQueen is known for his dramatic fashion shows, which are often grotesque and beautiful, and his designs incorporate natural history, mythology, sex, death and violence. The upcoming exhibition will juxtapose his designs with more than 70 historical artworks from the art movement that inspired him.
“We can’t know every time whether [McQueen] Esguerra admits to being inspired by the exact pieces in the exhibition, but says the curators hope to create “more dialogue” around his influence.
The exhibition will be divided into four themes – myth, fashion narrative, evolution and existence, and technological innovation – reflecting McQueen’s identity as a designer: creative genius and scary child are equal.
McQueen started his career as a tailoring student on Savile Row, where he honed his vast technical skills. At the age of 20, he moved to Milan, with no money or ability to speak Italian, and apprenticed at Romeo Gigli before returning to London to study at Central Saint Martins. He quickly became one of the UK’s most famous designers until, in 2010, he committed suicide at the age of 40 the day before his mother Joyce’s funeral.
His last full collection, Plato’s Atlantis, was presented at Paris Fashion Week in 2009.
McQueen is fascinated by the power of narrative, says Michaela Hansen, assistant curator of clothing and textiles at Lacma. This led him to controversial themes and ideas, such as his fourth runway show, called Highland Rape Fall-Winter 1995. As a comment on colonialism and the Scottish Highland purge, critics criticized his decision to let models walk the runway in tattered and bloody clothes because of misogyny. Several pieces from the collection will be exhibited at NGV.
Somerville said the allegations of misogyny were a misreading of McQueen, adding that he supports women and places them at the center of his personal life and creative world. One of them was socialite Isabella Blow, who became his muse and patron after seeing his graduation work at Central Saint Martins and buying each one. Clothing originally owned by Blow and muse Annabelle Neilson will also be on display at NGV.
Somerville praised McQueen for “breaking the rules and sparking your imagination” and said the NGV exhibit would be “challenging, joyful and beautiful… [a] to give our audience the opportunity to consider his work”.
Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse to open at National Gallery of Victoria December 11, 2022.