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Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty by Andrew…

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty

by Andrew Bolton, Harold Koda, Sølve Sundsbø (Photographer)

Other authors: Susannah Frankel (Afterword), Alexander McQueen (Contributor)

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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There are a number of books on Alexander McQueen and his work. I selected this one because it seemed to have the greatest number of pictures showing the clothes I had just seen at the V&A exhibition of the same name. There is little text, so those wishing to learn more about McQueen or his work would do best to choose another book.

Affixed to the outside of the front cover of this hardback is a large plastic sheet containing a pair of black and white superimposed images, the sort of thing where as you tilt the picture one image turns into the other. All well and good, all very clever, but unless one wears gloves there is no sensible way to read the book without getting fingerprints on the stylish black image. Within twenty-four hours of opening the book I gave up polishing them away.

This book comes from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's exhibition of McQueen's work in 2011 rather than the current (2015) exhibition at the V&A in London, however it appears that the same clothes were in both. I don't know whether the staging of the exhibition at the V&A is identical to the Met's but the style of presentation in the photographs is quite different. Whereas the V&A uses dummy-like mannequins in a manner which is austere but accentuates the opulence of the clothes, the photos in this book are very 'fashion', the headless mannequins being more like store mannequins. Many are set in action poses like a magazine photo shoot, and all are smeared with dull red like dried blood. The jackets which the V&A showed on half mannequins are here shown on full mannequins naked below the waist. Thus in a photo of the back of a cropped jacket the eye is inevitably struck more by the naked bottom than the stitching of the garment, an effect intensified by the mannequin's stance - elbows out, hands on hips. While this may be very McQueen in spirit it does detract from what I would expect from a book such as this, i.e. attention to the detail of the clothes themselves. I concede that there are some garments for which the action shot works best, those with bits that would drape and float but be lost in a static photo are here shown well, presumably through the use of a strong fan.

Most disappointing, however, is the quality of the photographs, or perhaps the way in which they have been reproduced. Many of McQueen's garments are black, but there are also delicate off whites and sumptuous regal reds. All the mannequins have been photographed against a medium grey background under what appears to have been a low light. Despite the opulence of the fabrics which McQueen used, frequently with beaded embroidery, the clothes appear matt and flat. In many of the images it is impossible to tell what is going on in the cut and design of the clothes. This is especially the case with the black clothes. In some pictures where the arm is next to the torso it is not possible to tell where one stops and the other begins. The powerful reds which dominate the room at the V&A exhibition are here matted down and blackly shaded, the only hints of the rich colour being where light catches the fabric on shoulders. There is a skirt which in the show is the colour of mid to blonde wood but in the book appears to be black and red. Everything looks dull and grubby.

Looking at the book again for this review, the day after visiting the exhibition, the book appears somewhat better than I at first thought, but I trust my first sense of disappointment.

The book I would really like to have would be a book done by the V&A photographed to the quality that they use in their "..... In Detail" series. In these books a photograph of a detail of an item of clothing is accompanied by a diagram showing the garment itself. The photographs are good enough to frame.

In the meantime, for as long as they are available, I recommend anyone who is interested but wouldn't be able to go to the exhibition to have a look at the V&A website, which has a number of articles and short videos about this (which may come down in August when the exhibition closes) and the BBC iPlayer, which has an exclusive guide to the show by Tinie Tempah. I don't know to what extent either of these may be geo-blocked.
  Oandthegang | Jun 29, 2015 |
I give the book 5 stars. It's as close to the exhibition as one can get without actually being at the Met. I agree that McQueen must have been a very private person; the book focuses on his art and what inspired him to create these amazing works. In my opinion, as an artist, it's worth every penny. McQueen's quotes alone are priceless, for they allow a glimpse into his brilliant mind. ( )
1 vote beinola | Jul 20, 2011 |
I picked this up after seeing the exhibit at the Met. The pictures are lovely, though there could have been more detail shots - McQueen's construction is incredible and you have to look closely at the pictures to see it. The pictures are full page, with the details of collection from which the piece came, year, materials, owner are in an appendix. It's a coffee table book, with not quite enough supplementary text to totally feel worth the cover price - there is a short bio, but I mostly got the sense the McQueen was a very private person, though incredibly driven. They do give references for all the magazine quotes, so I might try to track down a few of those articles. ( )
1 vote silentq | Jul 14, 2011 |
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» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Andrew Boltonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Harold Kodamain authorall editionsconfirmed
Sundsbø, SølvePhotographermain authorall editionsconfirmed
Frankel, SusannahAfterwordsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
McQueen, AlexanderContributorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Blanks, TimContributorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0300169787, Hardcover)

Arguably the most influential, imaginative, and provocative designer of his generation, Alexander McQueen both challenged and expanded fashion conventions to express ideas about race, class, sexuality, religion, and the environment.

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty examines the full breadth of the designer’s career, from the start of his fledgling label to the triumphs of his own world-renowned London house. It features his most iconic and radical designs, revealing how McQueen adapted and combined the fundamentals of Savile Row tailoring, the specialized techniques of haute couture, and technological innovation to achieve his distinctive aesthetic. It also focuses on the highly sophisticated narrative structures underpinning his collections and extravagant runway presentations, with their echoes of avant-garde installation and performance art.


Published to coincide with an exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art organized by The Costume Institute, this stunning book includes a preface by Andrew Bolton; an introduction by Susannah Frankel; an interview by Tim Blanks with Sarah Burton, creative director of the house of Alexander McQueen; illuminating quotes from the designer himself; provocative and captivating new photography by renowned photographer Sølve Sundsbø; and a lenticular cover by Gary James McQueen.


Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty celebrates the astounding creativity and originality of a designer who relentlessly questioned and confronted the requisites of fashion.



(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:47 -0400)

"The exhibition, organized by The Costume Institute, will celebrate the late Alexander McQueen's extraordinary contributions to fashion. From his postgraduate collection of 1992 to his final runway presentation which took place after his death in February 2010, Mr. McQueen challenged and expanded the understanding of fashion beyond utility to a conceptual expression of culture, politics, and identity. His iconic designs constitute the work of an artist whose medium of expression was fashion. Approximately one hundred examples will be on view, including signature designs such as the bumster trouser, the kimono jacket, and the Origami frock coat, as well as pieces reflecting the exaggerated silhouettes of the 1860s, 1880s, 1890s, and 1950s that he crafted into contemporary silhouettes transmitting romantic narratives. Technical ingenuity imbued his designs with an innovative sensibility that kept him at fashion's vanguard." -- MMA website.… (more)

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