London is experiencing a wealth of Alexander McQueen tribute shows. We’ve had the backstage drama of his early shows at the Proud Gallery, the V&A’s magnificent Savage Beauty, and we also have Tate Britain’s show of photographs taken by Nick Waplington of McQueen at work on The Horn of Plenty in early 2009 (see it before May 17th).
McQueen’s central concept for the show was the over-consumption and impossible, extreme images of beauty peddled by the fashion industry. He invited the photographer to document his workroom as he prepared for the show over a 5-week period in February-March 2009.
Throughout his career, McQueen acknowledged the commercial reality that if he wanted to succeed as a designer, he would have to work within at least some of the industry’s norms. He spent a period at Givenchy designing couture and Ready-to-Wear whilst continuing to channel his most creative ideas into his own label, using his association with LVMH to reinforce its financial position.
With The Horn of Plenty he raged against the excess of his industry, the state of the world economy and unrealistic images of beauty. He injected irony by recycling his own ideas – mood boards show swans (The Birds), tailoring (his apprenticeship at Anderson & Sheppard), Audrey Hepburn (Givenchy).
“It’s a punked up McQueen It Girl parody of a certain ideal, of a woman who never existed in the first place. Its Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Its Dior. Its Valentino’s ladies who lunch. It’s the women you see in those old images by Penn. They’re caricatures of their time and I’ve pushed that caricature even further.”
Waplington overlays this with his own irony, juxtaposing his images with close-ups of waste for recycling, enlarged and shown alongside collages of fabric swatches. It creates an oddly beautiful effect.
“I’m always interested in depicting the age that we live in and this collection depicts the silliness of our age. I think people will look back at it and know that we were living through a recession when I designed it, that we got to this point because of rampant, indiscriminate consumption. They’ll know that we’re referencing recycling but in a twisted way.”