Over a year ago I spent two hours at my job refreshing the computer and my phone in order to try and buy tickets for Savage Beauty at the V&A. I refreshed the web page on the computer, I refreshed the web page on my phone, I rang the ticket line while refreshing on the computer. I needed those tickets. I needed them. Eventually I got through to the web page. Should I try and get tickets for the first day or another day? I settled on getting them for my birthday. Happy birthday to me.
My birthday is the 3rd of July and I bought the tickets for the 4th. It’s now the 6th and I am still reeling. I didn’t know I would be so deeply affected. Pictures or sketching weren’t allowed but I did see people trying to do both. Hopefully words will be enough to explain the experience and any pictures I can find online.
I don’t really want to do this as a play by play of each room; so instead I’ll just take you through the moments which affected me the most.
Is it possible to imbue clothes with sadness? I am not sure if we can weave tears into thread but I felt them welling up in my eyes. I remember seeing this collection in 2010 and weeping. I felt like some great owl had lain itself down, its once light feathers heavy and its breath heaving because it knew the time had come. It’s heart was no longer restless and it fell like a gentle cloud. I remember feeling pain from the contrast of soft and hard. Solemn angels rest peacefully on the shoulders of two of the dresses. The fabric on one starts stiff, like marble columns and flows down into soft silky pleats. How dare it be so hard and soft and resolute and ready to go.
One of the dresses I would have really liked to see is a blood red gown with a pattern of houndstooth flying out into sharp sparrows from the horny of plenty collection. That dress has always stuck with me. There was a strongly tailored jacket with sparrows swooping around all over it but it wasn’t that dress and that was okay. I saw about five other dresses that I didn’t expect to see. The first one was dress number 13, the white, paint covered gown from his 1999 show. I had read somewhere a long while ago that it had been found on the floor in the Mcqueen archives in a state. When I saw it rotating slowly in the middle of the cabinet of curiosities room I was quite shocked!
I also can’t believe I got to see the antler headpiece from 2009. It’s an image I’ve seen hundreds and thousands of times in books but when you look at photographs in books you can often forget that the item in the picture is real. That pair of antlers, I feel is a truly iconic image that a lot of people would recognise, so seeing the actual piece was particularly surreal. I also enjoyed the commentary; basically it said “we spent so many hours making this thin, detailed scarf that cost about £2,300 or something and then we just jabbed the antlers through it because we thought it would look good effectively wasting all that money.” That is resplendent and ridiculous but now it’s one of the most famous pieces. Another dress I wasn’t expecting to see was the dress covered totally in flowers that fell apart down the runway. I thought the whole thing was real flowers, when actually it was a mix of silk flowers and real flowers sewn on in a way that some of them would definitely fall off and others would definitely stay on.
The cabinet of curiosities room was incredible, even though it was so crowded you couldn’t really stand and read the information like the rest of the areas. It was so high and narrow, it felt insurmountable. I felt like the need to crane your neck was deliberate and the room was designed to make you spin around. If you wanted to see something high up you could crane up to it, or you could look up to something high on the other side of the room. There was a constant oscillation between trying to crane your neck, trying took look down and trying to look somewhere else. It was appropriately chaotic. I went to the exhibition with my auntie and I’m really glad that I did because it gave me a much deeper insight into the music that was being played. In the room she was immediately like “oh this is the song from Rosmary’s baby, this is the song from deliverance, this is the song from Schindler’s list.” I was so unsettled by the loop of scissors snipping that was being played that the other music barely registered with me.
There were some rooms where famous moments from fashion shows had been recreated. There was a part where you could all gather to watch the hologram of Kate Moss twirl around in a beautiful dress that looked like seafoam inside a glass pyramid and another part where the reflective box staged in the centre of the VOSS collection was reproduced. I can’t tell you what I was expecting when I went in, but it wasn’t that. I don’t know, it was magical. I couldn’t handle being so close to things that I wasn’t even entirely sure were real.
The collection was brutal and beautiful; Savage Beauty was definitely the perfect title for it. However, now I don’t know what to do with myself. I’ve seen things I couldn’t believe and I’ll never achieve that kind of eye-searing beauty myself, I don’t think. I couldn’t believe how close they let you get to some of the pieces! I left feeling dizzy and bereft. What am I supposed to do now that I’ve seen it all? I’ve waited for over and year and now it’s all done. I suppose that’s the thing about the death of someone great, it leaves you feeling very bereft and not sure how to move on.