Exhibition: until 17 May, 2105
This couldn’t be anything less than an explosively good show, but even so it exceeded our expectations. Two artists in full command of quite different mediums (high fashion and documentary photography), working at full tilt together is bound to produce a uniquely memorable project. And so it happened when Alexander McQueen (read more about Savage Beauty, The V&A’s superb retrospective show of his work, here) asked photographer Nick Waplington to document the making of his 2009 Autumn/ Winter collection from inception to grand finale. The collection, McQueen’s penultimate, was called Horn of Plenty! and is regarded as one of the most seminal of the designer’s career. McQueen himself described the it as ‘a sackable offence’, and it was in many ways a retrospective itself as McQueen referenced much of his own past work in it. It also broke new ground and managed to be satirical, political, bold, elegant and beautiful all at the same time.
Waplington had total freedom to document Horn of Plenty! – both the making and the showing of the collection – however he wanted, and it’s hard to imagine anyone else capturing the life of a studio so comprehensively, and yet in such rich detail (you can see even the tiniest smudging of lipstick). Waplington used a series of large format cameras and must have worked tirelessly. He also produced images of recycling plants and landfill sites – recycling being one of the McQueen’s themes in Horn of Plenty! – and these images, interspersed throughout the show are disconcertingly beautiful.
But the whole exhibition is thought-provoking as well as a feast for the eyes. Many of the images are human-sized, and the final room showing photographs of the show, which is painted black and brilliantly lit, really does give you at least some sense of what that extraordinary half-hour of fashion history must have been like. Waplington produced 800 images for Working Process (all shot on negatives, all made into colour prints by Waplington himself). By November 2009, he and McQueen had whittled them down to 254 to create their finished book. Three months later McQueen was dead. This is the first time the prints have been exhibited and if you see Savage Beauty, which you must, you must see this show too, which is extraordinary in its own right but also helps contextualise the retrospective across town.
Do note: Nick Waplington will be In Conversation discussing the project and exhibition at The Tate Britain on 7th May.