There are few designers that produce the sort of work so multifaceted it warrants multiple simultaneous exhibitions, but Alexander McQueen was one such anomaly, season after season presenting collections that left – and continue to leave – the industry in a swell of wonderment.
The latest of London’s line up is a satellite to the V&A’s ‘Savage Beauty’; open from Thursday at LCF’s in-house Fashion Space Gallery, ‘Warpaint: Alexander McQueen and Make-Up’ explores the catwalk beauty created by collaborators such as Val Garland, Peter Philips, Topolino and Sharon Dowsett.
“We work in close collaboration with the V&A – Claire Wilcox is a visiting professor here,” curator Polona Dolzan explains of Warpaint’s arrival. “We established early on that Fashion Space Gallery would host an exhibition relating to McQueen’s work and due to the size of our space, we took advantage of that to focus on a specific detail that helped complete his looks.”
Comprised of 22 looks from across 13 collections, the display is split into three categories, each central to McQueen’s facial aesthetic: Amplified, Deviated and Stripped. “When looking through the catwalk shows, these three themes were recurring,” Clash hears.
“The idea of a polished, buffed beauty is a nod to McQueen’s obsession with 16th and 17th century Dutch Masters (Stripped); the looks on show here include Voss (SS01), one of McQueen’s favourite shows. Where make-up was used to highlight a particular part of the face, usually the eyes, (this) sits within Amplified. For example, in Untitled (Golden Showers SS98), models got rained on – McQueen wanted them to appear dishevelled by way of making their mascara run.”
The final category – Deviation – boasts important looks that told a different story, says Dolzan. Here she was interested in looking at make-up that really took on another identity, hence the clown faces of AW01’s What A Merry Go Round and feather doused appearances from La Dame Bleue (SS08) both feature.
“Beauty has always been a very important part of the whole catwalk look, but it really depends on the designer,” reasons Polona of McQueen’s influence in this arena, “how they want to use them, what is their vision.”
“There has,” she adds, citing Isamaya Ffrench’s recent work for Comme des Garcons and Alex Box’s painted faces at Gareth Pugh’s AW15 show, “been an emergence of new make-up artists that work on the boundaries of body art recently.”
The silicone masks (that will display each look in the exhibition), have been created together with students on the college’s BA Hair, Make-Up and Prosthetics for Performance course. A unique opportunity for the group, the curator speaks highly of those who helped (“extraordinary”, even), later confirming that they were very excited to delve into the subject matter. “They helped with the initial research and did the casting process themselves,” she notes, offering, perhaps ironically, that they were at first familiar only with the clothes as opposed to the make-up looks.
Elsewhere Fashion Space Gallery has teamed up with digital creative studio Holition; referencing the importance of technology placed on shows by the designer himself, a 3D installation will illustrate the transformation of model make-up realised during a single performance, reimaging the events and highlighting the role make-up played in Lee’s narratives.
Naturally, an app has been created too. Titled ‘FACE’, it allows fans to capture themselves in McQueen looks.
Quizzed on her own relationship with the exhibition, Dolzan claims the most absorbing discovery as the prominent use of prosthetics – “Eyebrows were often obscured and removed by way of using prosthetics” – while on the subject of favourite collections, she replies simply “I couldn’t.”
“The exhibition celebrates the collaborative aspect of Alexander McQueen’s work,” we’re told in conclusion, “As well as having his own vision that he wanted realised, he also listened to the experts he collaborated with. The idea of the whole look was so important to him, and that is one of the main things I would like for an audience to take away.”
Words: Zoe Whitfield