It would be easy to view a fashion designer as popular as Alexandra McQueen as overblown and over rated, whose fame is overinflated by the hubris surrounding his death. The cult of doomed youth has such a pungent smell in the fashion world that it tends to overpower the more delicate scent of genuine creativity and fresh thinking. Such a large career retrospective in a major museum does not often favour the latter. In addition, the waiting list and queues to this exhibition are likewise overpoweringly long and a real deterrent unless the visitor is armed with a suitably sharp V&A membership card to cut down the wait. However, if there is one exhibition that is worth the challenge of entry it is this one. Rarely does a specialist in a creative field seem so fresh and clear in their communication. It is as though McQueen has made his collections after entering fashion from another field, working as a skilled outsider who has not been trapped by the traditions, assumptions, and tired routines of the fashion world. Yet strangely this is not true, he spent years perfecting tailoring skills, working in one of the most stylistically constrained areas of the fashion industry.
So where does this clarity come from? how does McQueen achieve the simplified overview that is fresh, creative and approachable, interesting yet understandable by all of us? It is perhaps his ability to raise his head above specialist and localised thinking of his trade, to genuinely combine different perspectives of knowledge in a way that is intelligently enriching. This is not the form of appropriation that often happens where surface visual references are grabbed and consumed by the trend machine of fashion, but a deeper understanding of culture’s structure in a simpler and more fundamental way. His work has almost a child like in its desire and clarity, which is combined with advanced technical skills and a seemingly unending stream of creative options. Perhaps he exemplifies ‘beginners mind’ for as Shunryu Suzuki says ‘In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.’