On Sunday I took myself off to London to Tate Britain to see this exhibition which is complementary to Savage Beauty at The V&A, running until May 17th. Having seen Savage Beauty twice (to date!) I’m very glad I did because the photos at the Tate give a small insight (to a nosey parker like me) into the work room of McQueen and his staff. Photographer Nick Waplington himself explains how he was invited by McQueen to have full access to his studio and workroom throughout the creation, development and presentation of his Horn of Plenty collection, beginning in February 2009, until it’s presentation later that year in Paris.
Whenever I go to an exhibition of any designer’s clothes, the thing I want to do more than any other is to know how they’ve been made and what led them to be created in such a way in the first place-the nuts and bolts of them if you like. I’d love to see inside a garment, to work out how the pattern was cut, how do the seams go together? why the print works the way it seems to, how do the sleeves fit in like that? what’s that collar doing so that it sits just so? The end result could be spectacular or very understated but many hours of work will have gone into that garment. I’m itching to get my hot little hands on it and turn it inside out! I find it frustrating when I can’t see the back properly too-sometimes that’s the best bit!
A thing that I really appreciate is that that garment is rarely the work of just one person. Sure, the vision will have come from a brilliantly talented designer but to be able to bring what’s in their head to fruition takes a whole team of fantastically talented others-pattern cutters, sample cutters and machinists, embroiderers, corsetieres, technicians…usually with years of experience and knowledge that the designer can draw on and often be guided by.
There are a number of dresses in Savage Beauty which are covered with feathers-how did they do that? I’ve still got no idea but there is one intriguing photo in this exhibition of a young technician sitting with a half-made bodice that’s covered in reddish feathers, she could be glueing or stitching, it’s obviously a trade secret which I’m not party to and the picture isn’t much help! Incidentally I couldn’t find a copy of it to show here so you’ll just have to take my word for it!
Sarah Burton was central to everything that McQueen produced and, whilst she seems a quiet and unassuming person who isn’t renowned for being in the spotlight, she features alongside him in many of the photographs-a true collaboration, a team, and it’s thanks to her that the McQueen name in design continues.
I found it particularly sad to look at the pictures of a man who is so alive and creative, at the peak of his inventiveness, laughing and joking with his colleagues. The pensive photos where he’s thoughtful and off-guard are especially poignant.
I loved seeing the mood boards with their pictures, fabric scraps and samples, images, influences and thought processes-it helps you to make a little sense of where the ideas originate from to become a final collection.
One of the things I’ve always enjoyed about seeing these shows is the fact that I can get up close to garments that I have no realistic hope of ever seeing any other way. I don’t especially aspire to owning one (although a beautiful evening gown or a tailored suit would be highly covetable) Some of these photos show how a garment started life as a few scrappy bits of fabric with a lot of pins in, to being a full-blown evening gown.
This exhibition at Tate Britain , and Savage Beauty at the V&A, are well worth going to if you’re at all curious about seeing fabulous garments of which many, it’s fair to say, are unwearable in a practical way. But that is to miss the point. Many clever ideas and inventions started life as seeming totally preposterous but by the time they’ve been diluted over a few years of development and acceptance they eventually become the norm and we don’t give them a second thought.
It takes people like McQueen to upset the status quo with radical creative ideas so that we all move forward artistically…whether we like it or not.