Roses, open now at the house’s Old Bond Street store, provides a remarkable behind-the-scenes look at the Alexander McQueen atelier
“Everything I do is connected to nature in one way or another,” Lee Alexander McQueen once said, a statement which hovers above the entrance of a new exhibition, Roses, which opened this weekend at Alexander McQueen’s Old Bond Street store. Taking inspiration from the late designer’s love of flowers – and subsequently Sarah Burton’s, the house’s current creative director – Roses centres on two gowns: a red silk taffeta ‘Rose’ dress, the finale of Burton’s North of England-inspired Autumn/Winter 2019 show, and one from McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2007 Sarabande collection, first presented by the late designer over a decade earlier.
The latter is perhaps one of McQueen’s most extraordinary: the collection’s closing look, it was constructed from hundreds of fresh flowers, some of which fell away as model Tanya Dziahileva walked the circular runway at Paris’ Cirque d’Hiver. “I used flowers because they die,” McQueen told AnOther Magazine at the time. “Nothing is forever. There was a fragility to this collection, in the idea that nothing is permanent, that beauty disappears.” Such dichotomies – beauty and decay; life and death – underscored much of McQueen’s work, for which nature was an endless source of inspiration. Not least flowers, which recurred throughout his oeuvre and provide the starting point of Roses: “the symbolism of flowers is rooted in the power of nature,” reads the exhibition’s by-line.
Taking place in the store’s ephemeral education space on the second floor – opened by Burton to house exhibitions, installations, talks and workshops for students from across the country in January 2019 – Roses places focus on the extraordinary processes behind the pieces on display. Burton’s ‘Rose’ dress, for example, is accompanied by a video of the head of the McQueen atelier Judy Halil constructing the twisted taffeta gown from beginning to end; research and work-in-progress samples sit alongside on a pattern-cutting table, around which students will attend talks in the coming months. The house hopes to make “the expertise of the studio at Alexander McQueen real and tangible”.
Elsewhere, a video shows McQueen’s Sarabande flower dress on the runway at Cirque d’Hiver, surrounded by pieces from the S/S07 collection, each with flowers or petals suspended in layers of tulle, or emerging from necklines or cuffs. Other dresses by both McQueen and Burton – decorated with English roses or camelias, garden flowers, bees, or ‘exploded’ organza, evocative of carnations – can also be found in the space. A further video is narrated by Burton herself, describing her fascination with the iconography of flowers, detailing the memories behind the collections, from trips to country gardens to reminiscenses on embroideries or the involvement of students in the final collections.
The result is a remarkable portrait of the McQueen atelier, which has come to rival that of even the most esteemed of Parisian couture houses. As such, the space also provides an invaluable resource for a new generation of students, many of whom will have the opportunity to attend educational classes on pattern-making and couture techniques by Burton and Halil over the coming month, and into 2020.
Roses is open to the public now at Alexander McQueen, 27 Old Bond Street.