Savage Beauty

17.03.2015 | Fashion | BY:

Strangely moving and beautifully composed, Savage Beauty is the most fitting homecoming for fashion’s rare bird.

Just as complex as the man himself and just as deeply layered, the V&A’s retrospective of the late great Lee Alexander McQueen is as powerful as it is poignant. At the time of writing 70,000 advance tickets had already sold for Savage Beauty. So far, that’s 3,000 more than the V&A had sold during the same period for David Bowie Is… It says something when a fashion designer can outsell a rock icon.

This amplified version of the original exhibition staged at The Met in 2011 has been fittingly expanded to begin at the beginning, with McQueen’s hometown and the raw, scratchy, seedy energy of London. You can trace a line through McQueen’s growth as a designer from his Central St Martins MA collection, inspired by backstreet debauchery, through to the exquisite aristocratic and ornithological references that chime with his complex relationship with Isabella Blow. Brutally beautiful rather than conventionally so, McQueen effectively reprogrammed femininity.

Almost twenty years of transformative and transgressive design are here and the iconic garments come thick and fast, from the goose feather coat dipped in gold to the bumster trousers and the crocodile head epaulettes. Animalistic and erotic, the pieces feel real and three-dimensional in ways that many fashion garments fall short in this kind of setting. Layered thick with references, implied and explicit, they transcend ready to wear. There are over 240 garments showcased over the ten rooms, including 70 additional pieces that particularly resonate with the London homecoming. Exhibition designers Sam Gainsbury and Joseph Bennett have taken a thematic route through McQueen’s archive, creating theatrical spaces that are powerfully evocative of his most recognisable influences.

A Cabinet of Curiosities exposes many of McQueen’s most memorable garments, including some he created for Givenchy. At the heart is the rotating dress from his Spring/ Summer 1999 No. 13 collection, in which Shalom Harlow was famously sprayed by robots. Soaring up to the ceiling are 120 other pieces, but emphasis is placed on highlighting the sculptural jewellery and headwear accessories created by long-time collaborators Philip Treacy and Stephen Webster. The association with McQueen seems to even elevate these two master craftsmen, standing on the shoulders of a giant. The exhibition ends with McQueen’s final collection, Plato’s Atlantis (Spring/Summer 2010), which in retrospect feels like the pinnacle of his fascination with anthropomorphic metamorphosis. And those armadillo shoes will define him – and the label –  long, long after his death.

The poignancy of his brief genius resonates through a re-staging of the Kate Moss hologram that closed the Widows of Culloden Autumn/Winter 2006 show; an ethereal wisp of cheekbones and organza floating mid-air finally drifts off into the distance and disappears into the black solar system. It’s a fitting metaphor for a designer whose star shone brighter than most, but who was ultimately consumed by his own personal tragedy.

Savage Beauty is at the V & A Museum until 2nd August 2015.

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Allen Jones RA

20.11.2014 | Art , Fashion | BY:

Allen Jones knows how to sell sex. Since he first exhibited his fibreglass women in the late 1960s – the prototype fembot, down on all fours, arse practically over head, strapped into bondage gear – he’s owned it. They were – are – the literal representation of sex-on-legs. And who’d have thought that the place to get a little artistic perversion in London these days would be at the Royal Academy?

It’s clear that Jones’ coterie of fetishised furniture sculptures represents a very specific sort of fantasy. It’s everyman erotica; pert tits, big lips, hard-bodied, submissive, available. Serving you cocktails, ready to take your hat. They’re expensive whores on all fours. Yet, even as a feminist, you have to relish in how aggressively politically uncorrect it all is. Jones makes incredibly, obviously, seductive art. And you might feel a bit grubby about it afterwards, but then we’ve all been there, right?

Jones’ paintings provide a little counter balance to the implied misogyny of his sculptures. In these colourfully kitsch scenes he paints about power-play with cross-dressing inferences, of the dominate female, the submissive male, of the animalistic rituals of mating and the delicate interplay of coupling represented in the form of dance. It’s the paintings and later sculptures that suggest a much more complex side to Jones than the ones his critics would have you believe. To reduce Jones to a fetish artist, means you ignore a lot of the richness and ambiguity in his work. And it’s this that makes you want to go back and take a second look at the sculptures – maybe it’s not all about oppression and submission, maybe there’s something deeper at play? Maybe it’s not a male-female thing after all. Maybe she’s in control. Hell, maybe she’s even enjoying herself. Imagine that.

Allen Jones RA is at the Royal Academy, London until 25th January 2015

IMAGE CREDIT: Allen Jones RA, Body Armour, 2013 Photograph, 127 x 127 cm London, Private Collection / Image courtesy of the artist © Allen Jones

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Vivianne Sassen Analemma: Fashion Photography

06.11.2014 | Art , Fashion | BY:

Flourishes of dynamic movement, of fabric that bursts out of the frame like a blossoming bud, and a peak of flesh teasing from underneath… Vivianne Sassen’s fashion portraits offer a lavish antidote to over-exposed minimalism. Hey there colour, welcome back.

Currently on show at The Photographer’s Gallery as part of their fashion season, Sassen’s Analemma series makes the body a vehicle for movement, albeit captured in a static photograph. With her crackling eye for shape and form, Sassen creates little fashion aliens out of her subjects. These beautiful freaks, with their saturated skin-tones wrapped in voluminous swathes of fabric, can be found striking a pose against a surrealist landscape or moulding their bodies into sculptural installations. Their composition owes much more to art history than to contrived fashion formulae.

Mirroring the performance element of her shoots, the 350 or so images on view are presented in a sweeping swirl of movement; projections slide across the walls and floors in a constant loop of motion. And the colour literally blooms from her photographs. Sometimes it’s sharp and graphic, cutting a bold, clashing contrast of dramatic shapes and hues. Other times it’s present as a beautifully tonal and subtle spectrum. It’s Sassen’s non-conformity, her ability to eek-out every single droplet of pigment and her contextual references to fine art, that mean her work can not be confined to, or defined by, the fashion industry.

It’s funny that colour seems to have taken on an avant-garde status in fashion, but here’s to the industry’s current renegade and her eye-popping palette of human sculptures.

Vivianne Sassen Analemma: Fashion Photography 1992 –2012 is at The Photographer’s Gallery until 18 January 2015.

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