Five years on since the death of Alexander McQueen, one of the most prolifically talented fashion designers of our time, Working Process, which opens today at the Tate Britain is a major photography exhibition which provides a unique insight into his satirical and aggressive Horn of Plenty Autumn/Winter collection from 2009, as captured by artist Nick Waplington.
The exhibition which features a selection of around 100 large and small scale photographs across seven rooms, is a celebration of the deliberately provocative last collection produced by McQueen, including never seen before images taken by the acclaimed British photographer.
As an iconoclastic retrospect of his career in fashion, Horn of Plenty focused around the concept of reworking and recycling, pulling vintage silhouettes and fabrics from the archive to be remastered, recoiling old ideas from previous seasons. The designer described his collection as a: “punked up McQueen It Girl parody of a certain ideal, of a woman who never existed in the first place.”
Designed during the recession, the collection was born out of the ideas we were “living in a mess.” From the couture silk clothes ironically designed to look as if they were made from bin liners and broken records, to the catwalk set out of broken mirrors and discarded elements from the sets of his past shows, the collection was a huge operation which was designed to provoke shock and fascination.
Working with six large format cameras, a process which Waplington described as “frenetic”, the photographer, who is known for centring his work on issues of class, identity and conflict and mixing different forms of photography, was entrusted to capture the intense and theatrical working process of production of the garments, from the drawing stage right through to the show, capturing a raw, unpolished side of the fashion industry.
He said: “It was important for me to capture the downtime in the studio and then be ready for those moments of excitement when everything kicked into gear again. I was very conscious that I would include every stage of the process, and that I would take pictures of everyone working in the studio right though to the interns.”
From the inception in McQueen’s Hackney studio, to the grand finale in Paris six months later on the 9th March, Waplington’s photographs emphasise McQueen’s involvement from start to finish with every piece. As noted by Susannah Frankel, Fashion Editor of The Independent: “it’s very unusual to watch a designer go from kneeling on the floor cutting a pattern, to pinning that pattern on a model and fitting it down to the last detail.”
Juxtaposing the candid images of McQueen’s working process, Waplington visited Veolia’s land field site on the A12 also significantly in East London, as well a recycling plant in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, and a recycling plant in the Negev desert in Israel, to make what he described as “theoretical pictures of the waste ground.” Used throughout the exhibition to create a powerful commentary on destruction and creative review, the artist observed that the photographs developed the project from what would have been a fashion documentary sequences of pictures, to a true work of art.
The project finished in November 2009 and was finalised by McQueen 3 months before his death. In conversation with The Tate, Waplington said that he now feels he is “looking after part of his legacy with this work”, something he describes as a strange situation to be in.
The exhibition runs until the 17th May and coincides with the Victoria and Albert museum’s Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty fashion exhibition.
All images© Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process Courtesy of Tate Britain