Savage Beauty: The strange and stunning fashions of Alexander McQueen

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Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty has arrived at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London

The exhibition showcases the late designers most memorable pieces

V&A director Mark Roth sees it as a "homecoming" for London-born McQueen

CNN  — 

You would be pressed to find a designer who appealed to the imagination as much as Alexander McQueen. A favorite with A-listers and fashion editors alike, he was renowned for his Gothic sensibilities, innovative textiles (think shells, horns and hair) and highly conceptual runway shows, as well as his bad boy antics behind the scenes. (Along with the usual drinks, drugs and parties, he once claimed to have stitched profanities into the lining of a jacket for Prince Charles.)

Five years after his death, interest in the designer hasn’t waned, least of all in his home town of London, where, starting this month, he’s being commemorated with an extensive, expensive retrospective at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, a re-staging of the 2011 exhibition at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, summarizes and contextualizes McQueen’s 18-year career through an elaborate display of 244 garments and accessories.

Savage Beauty at the V&A is the largest and most ambitious fashion exhibition the museum has ever staged,” said curator Claire Wilcox at a press preview.

The V&A has already sold 70,000 advanced tickets, and extended the exhibition by two weeks to meet demand. At the Met, Savage Beauty attracted over 660,000 visitors by the end of its four-month run, making it one of the museum’s top 10 exhibitions of all time, up there with a King Tut stop in 1978 and a Mona Lisa loan in 1963.

The London connection

Alexander McQueen with close friends Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss in 2004.

Bringing Savage Beauty to London can be seen as a “homecoming,” as it was described by V&A director Martin Roth at the press preview, if not an act of repatriation.

The son of cab driver and a school teacher, Alexander “Lee” McQueen grew up in London’s East End. After dropping out of school at 16, he honed his tailoring skills on Savile Row, graduated with an MA in fashion design from the city’s prestigious Central Saint Martins college, and used the V&A’s archives to research his collections.

He once said of London: “It’s where my heart is, and where I get my inspiration.”

That love was largely reciprocated. In 2011, thousands of British devotees petitioned to have Savage Beauty brought to London after its spectacular New York debut.

Fashion journalist Melanie Rickey was one of the most vocal proponents. A longtime fan, she has coauthored the upcoming release Inferno: Alexander McQueen (Laurence King), a coffee table book of interviews and images from photographer Kent Baker, which documents March 1996 collection Dante.