Tuesday 24 March 2015

Seeing how Reality becomes Fantasy: Nick Waplington/ Alexander McQueen: Working Process

Alexander McQueen is the name on every London based fashonista and gallery goers lips at the moment. The V&A are holding the Savage Beauty exhibition which proved a sell out success when it was at the Metropolitan in New York. Now almost four years later it has come to London bringing the clothes back to McQueen's home turf.

Endless column inches have been written about this show there was even a program on the BBC where Tinie Temper takes us around the star studded private view.

Less attention has been given to the Tate Britain's Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process exhibition and it is on this one that I shall focus.

Before I start one major disclaimer **There are no dresses in this exhibition** If you want to ogle over his astounding designs then this is not the show for you but believe me it brings plenty of other fascinating things to the party.

The exhibition shows the photographs of British photographer Nick Waplington. Waplington is better known for his early gritty photographs of his family and friends shot in Aspley Estate in Nottingham. In these we are presented with screaming children, men under cars, adults clutching fags, tinsel laden Christmas trees all set against a backdrop of garish 70's wallpaper and shag carpet. They capture an image of hectic, chaotic but also very loving family life. More recently his work has focused on Jewish settlers in the West bank. (incidentally his Instagram feed is great)

Certainly not the archetypal fashion photographer. Yet he was the man that McQueen looked to when he wanted to create a photographic document of his iconic 2009 show the Horn of Plenty. The match is in fact a perfect one and the collaborative photobook that the pair produced reflects both of their interests and personalities.

The images take us through the development of the Horn of Plenty catwalk show, as well as focusing on photographs taken in McQueen's studio the pair incorporated Waplington's stunning photographs of that oh so glamorous fashion venue... landfill sites.

At first glance this may seem like a strange combination however the notion of recycling and reusing old fabrics designs and other materials was central to this particular show and the starkly contrasting images do in fact compliment each other. The fashion photographs allow us to look at the beautiful colours in the landfill images the elaborate textures they create, while the landfill images remind us of the transience of the very nature of fashion, disposable culture and McQueen's interest in recycling his ideas.

The images take you through the process of creating the show we see the elaborate moodboards, Sarah Burton (who of course now heads the Alexander McQueen brand) helping pin the designs onto models, models being squeezed into corsets, magnificent hats being created by Philip Treacy and every little detail being closely examined to create the most dramatic effect possible. One of the striking things about the exhibition is the extent to which Lee is involved in the process there are endless shots of him in his slightly creased shirt micromanaging the design process.

The final room is undeniably the most dramatic the images shown here are the last phase in the process, showing the moment just before the models go on stage.

The room is dark with black walls and bright spotlights angled straight on to the works so they seem to jump off the wall. I can't help but think of it as the moment just before reality becomes fantasy because that is what McQueen's shows are really works of  pure carefully crafted fantasy.