Alexander Mcqueen

From there he moved to the theatrical costumiers Angels and Bermans where he mastered 6 methods of pattern cutting from the melodramatic 16th Century to the razor sharp tailoring which has become a McQueen signature. Aged 20 he was employed by the designer Koji Tatsuno, who also had his roots in British tailoring. A year later McQueen travelled to Milan where he was employed as Romeo Gigli’s design assistant. On his return to London, he completed a Masters degree in Fashion Design at Central Saint Martin’s. He showed his MA collection in 1992, which was famously bought in its entirety by Isabella Blow.
Alexander McQueen shows are known for their emotional power and raw energy, as well as the romantic but determinedly contemporary nature of the collections. Integral to the McQueen culture is the juxtaposition between contrasting elements: fragility and strength, tradition and modernity, fluidity and severity. An openly emotional and even passionate viewpoint is realised with a profound respect and influence for the arts and crafts tradition. Alexander’s collections combine an in-depth working knowledge of bespoke British tailoring, the fine workmanship of the French Haute Couture atelier and the impeccable finish of Italian manufacturing.” (Alexander Mcqueen)
V&A Museum Savage Beauty (14 March – 2 August 2015)
“Celebrating the extraordinary creative talent of one of the most innovative designers of recent times, Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty was the first and largest retrospective of McQueen’s work to be presented in Europe.”
I went to the exhibition last July, and I still feel that it was one of the best I have ever attended. There was so much to look at that I think I may actually have missed things. The exhibition takes the audience through his career – beginning with his graduate MA work through to his last collection. Each section showcases the best of his amazing design and tailoring skills, as well as his creative prints. One of the highlights of the exhibition was the video of Kate Moss.

“The Kate Moss hologram was a dramatic and emotional finale to the Paris show, with the ethereal figure of Moss shown floating inside a giant pyramid, set to the poignant soundtrack from Schindler’s List. McQueen was renowned for his catwalk show theatrics and also his love of exploring new technology, though this particular work was created using the Victorian parlour trick Pepper’s Ghost.” (Creative Review)
“Pepper’s Ghost is a special effects technique for creating transparent ghostly images. It works by reflecting the image of a ghost off of a sheet of plexiglass. This effect has been a staple of theaters and haunted houses since John Pepper popularized it in the 1800s.” (Make Zine)



I only managed to sneak one photo but I’ve found better online from the V&A website.



I also bought the book from the V&A store which was worth it so I could see closeups of some of his prints and clothing.


Scan 38

A lot of Mcqueen’s work focused on the idea of memento mori and his own mortality/transience.


Scan 42

Scan 41

Scan 44

I love his use of natural elements like shells and insects. In some cases his clothing looks as though they could represent some of the symbolism that is present within Vanitas paintings. Butterflies represent a cycle, and also transience because they live very short lives. The shells could have a few different meanings; I’ve seen some seashells used in Vanitas paintings in more decadent ways, contrasting rich food with themes of death (usually skulls) as a reminder that we can’t take any of our riches with us. The shells are also symbols of death too – the creatures inside are long dead – their outer shells are a reminder that they once lived.


Scan 37

This pattern reminded me of the patterns on butterfly wings.


Scan 35

Scan 36

Scan 43

Scan 45

Scan 46

I’m also fascinated by the way that Mcqueen made his prints. Most of his prints feature some kind of symmetry – creating abstract shapes and patterns with recognizable objects.


Other McQueen Prints:
I found a few more repeat prints online. I do like the look of symmetry, although I tend to make a lot of work that is symmetrical already. If I did make a repeat/symmetrical print I know it would turn out pretty well because I have a lot of practise of making them, but I may decide to try something different. I’m not ruling it out at this stage, as I may decide that a repeat print works well for a particular image.
Prints On Clothing:
I found a few examples of McQueen clothing with printed material, as I wanted to study the way that the print interacts with the clothing silhouettes. I think it would be a good idea to first work out the shape of the clothing that I want, and then design a print based on that. Some of these prints are related to the memento mori/vanitas theme, which is interesting for me to see how I could approach the subject matter myself. The last dress is probably the best example of the kind of clothing that I wanted to produce, but with a more visible print.













Horniman Museum

I visited the Horniman Museum to look at some different animals for inspiration for my project.
I focused a lot on different insects, as I’ve been doing a lot of research into them. I tried to capture interesting angles and compositions.
I also studied natural patterns that are found on animals, insects, etc, to see if there was some patterns that I could also incorporate into my fabric design.

National Gallery Visit

As well as the V&A I also visited the National Gallery too, as I thought they would have more examples of vanitas paintings.
Before I went to the gallery I quickly researched what rooms the paintings I wanted to see were in.
Unfortunately photos were not allowed, but I did manage to snap one quick photo inside the gallery! The rest of the photos of paintings are from the gallery website. I made a list of the paintings I liked so I would be able to research them from home.
Trompe l’oeil Studio Wall with a Vanitas Still Life by Cornelius Norbertus Gijsbrechts
“This curious and complex Flemish still life is a type of vanitas, depicting recognisable symbols which remind the viewer of the vanity of life. The skull denotes mortality, the bubble conveys the fragility of life, and the dying candle represents the transience of time. Even the work of art itself is subject to decay, as shown by the canvas falling from its stretcher to reveal a portrait miniature of an unknown sitter.
The depiction of a painting within a painting continues through the glimpse of the studio wall and the artist’s tools in the foreground where the passing of time is visualised through the wet paints on the artist’s palette, slowly dripping down in echo of the falling canvas above.
Gijsbrechts is noted for such use of trompe-l’oeil, his paintings often employing the illusionistic technique that became popular in Holland in the 1650s through works by artists such as Carel Fabritius (1622-1654) and Samuel van Hoogstraten (1627-1678). In Gijsbrechts’ work, the use of trompe l’oeil functions to remind viewers that paintings – made up of woven canvases and pigments – are subject to the laws of transience too.”



Vanitas Still Life by Jan Jansz. Treck
“This painting belongs to the category of vanitas still lifes, which contain objects intended to cause the viewer to reflect on the inevitability of mortality and the consequent foolishness of all human ambition. They include a skull wreathed in straw, an hourglass, an extinguished pipe and tapers, musical instruments (a flute, a viol and bow), a black lacquer box and a Rhenish stoneware jug (both collectors’ items), a book of music and a drawing, a shell and a straw used for blowing bubbles, and a helmet. The title-page is of a play by Theodore Rodenburgh (about 1578 – 1644) which was published in Amsterdam in 1618; it can be translated into English as ‘Evil is its own reward’.”




Still Life with Drinking-Horn by Willem Kalf
about 1653
“The drinking-horn in this still life was made of a single buffalo horn set into a silver mount which features Saint Sebastian, patron saint of archers, who was bound to a tree as a target for two Roman soldiers. It dates from 1565 and is kept today in the Amsterdam Museum. The horn suggests that the painting was probably commissioned by a member of the Amsterdam archers’ guild.

The artist has chosen the objects shown for their magnificent colour and texture. The sparkle of the lobster, the gleam of the lemon, the subtle texture of the carpet, all demonstrate the play of light over different surfaces. A contemporary viewer would have recognised the objects as expensive luxury items that only the wealthy would have been able to afford.”



Still Life with a Pewter Flagon and Two Ming Bowls by Jan Jansz. Treck
“The muted tones and sombre composition of this still life play down the sumptuousness of the precious objects on display. The two bowls are late Ming blue and white, of a type first imported into Holland not long before this picture was painted. The blue has discoloured over the years because the artist used smalt, a chemically unstable pigment.”




Still Life: An Allegory of the Vanities of Human Life by Harmen Steenwyck
about 1640
“The books symbolise human knowledge, the musical instruments (a recorder, part of a shawm, a lute) the pleasures of the senses. The Japanese sword and the shell, both collectors’ rarities, symbolise wealth. The chronometer and expiring lamp allude to the transience and frailty of human life. All are dominated by the skull, the symbol of death.”


With these paintings I found a number of things striking. Firstly, the symbolism that each object holds, and how everything in the painting has a meaning and is there for a reason. Within my work sometimes I tend to include different objects without learning their symbolism, so if I took a route with my work of a more vanitas feel, I would find out the different symbolisms for the different objects I include in my compositions.
I also found it fascinating how each of these paintings weren’t that big really. My own work is on a very small scale too. It was just a coincidence but it feels like the work I create it more closely connected than I thought to this theme.




V&A Museum Visit

For some inspiration of memento mori/vanitas style paintings, I went to the V&A museum.
There wasn’t a lot admittedly, as some of the paintings are currently in storage.


Still Life with a Dead Stag” by Frans Snyders
Oil on Canvas1640-50. Netherlands.
Museum info: “The most prized quarry in hunting was the stag, depicted here with throat and hamstrings cut, and gutted. Showing game hung for butchery and baskets of fruit, this type of still life represented worldly pursuits and fleeting pleasures. The thieving monkey embodies stupidity, and may refer to human barbarism being guided by animal instincts and desires. This monumental painting was probably the focal point of a large room.”
Probably the second best example of a vanitas that I found. With most vanitas paintings there is always a juxtaposition between life and death. The animals carcasses are a bit more gruesome than the usual vanitas. Although most animal carcasses are hung upside down, something about this painting reminded me of biblical themes, almost as if the animals (especially the deer) have been crucified. St Peter was crucified upside down as he said he was not worthy of being positioned in the same way that Christ was. This shows humility, respect, and unworthiness.

Flowers in a Niche” by Roelant Savery
Oil on canvas . 1621. Netherlands.
Museum info: “Savery combined observation and illusion in his flower paintings. This seemingly realistic arrangement – featuring iris, rose, lily, narcissus, tulip, forget-me-not and pansy – would have been impossible because the flowers bloom in different seasons. The insects and lizard are shown to be deceived by the illusion. Flower paintings like this has symbolic Christian meanings and alluded to the fleeting nature of human life.”
The wilting flowers were what drew me to this piece. Although it’s not really a vanitas painting, I feel some of the imagery is quite similar.


“Still Life” by N.L.Peschier
Oil on canvas. 1659. Netherlands.
“Here the skull and hourglass remind the viewer of the passing of time, while the coins and music allude to the end that death brings to wealth and earthly pleasures.”
 This is the best (and most traditional) example of a vanitas in the V&A. The different symbolisms of the objects of the piece are compelling as it’s quite intriguing working out what each object means without reading the description first. The juxtaposing symbolism is what makes this piece a traditional vanitas.


“Flowers: Tulips, Camellias, Hyacinths” & “Flowers: Tulips, Azaleas, Roses” by Ignace-Henri-Jean-Theodore Fantin-Latour
Both: Oil on Canvas. 1864.
“Fantin approached still-life painting as a way to experiment with composition. It was a form of ‘Art for Art’s sake’ in which the beauty of line and colour was more important than any subject or moral”
Again, I was drawn to this piece as I liked the depictions of flowers. I don’t tend to like flower paintings normally but I think for the work I want to create for this project they would be a good source of inspiration.


The Holy Sacrament Surrounded by Flowers” by Jan Pauwel Gillemans
Oil on canvas. 1565. Southern Netherlands.
“This painting is a good example of the Flemish flowers pieces in which was inserted a biblical subject matter. Most of the flowers and fruits here depicted allude to the Passion of Christ and echo the Holy Sacrament depicted in the centre of the composition. These compositions are characteristic of the school of Antwerp where Jan Brueghel the Elder (1601-1678), Daniel Seghers (1590-1661) and their followers produced still life combined with a figural scene.”




It was hard to get a decent photo of this piece so I found a better photo on the V&A website. The use of flowers and fruit in the flemish style is what caught my eye with this piece. I also liked the fact that is you look closely you can discover insects and other creatures hidden amongst the foliage.