A year before committing suicide in 2010, fashion designer Alexander McQueen commissioned art photographer Nick Waplington to shoot what would be his last runway show: “Horn of Plenty,” dedicated to McQueen’s mother. Now, as London’s Victoria & Albert Museum gears up to host Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, the blockbuster exhibition that ran at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011, London’s Tate Modern is opening Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process. It’s a quieter show of Waplington’s photographs, which were first published in a coffee table book in 2013, and it offers insight into McQueen’s unique design process.
Vogue fashion editor Miranda Almond called “Horn of Plenty” “the kind of show that puts your faith back in fashion.” The fall 2009 collection recycled motifs from the designer’s previous 15 years of work, from silhouettes to early jewelry pieces to props. The set featured a runway strewn with broken mirrors and a massive heap of garbage made from burnt sets from earlier shows, with models teetering among the wreckage in sky-high platforms, wearing wild headgear made of umbrellas, lampshades, and baskets.
Waplington was given unprecedented access to photograph McQueen at work: there’s the designer outfitting chalk-faced models with glossy Marilyn Manson-esque lips; hanging out with Anna Wintour; smiling in his studio in a pale blue buttondown. They reveal how collaborative and hands-on he was when preparing for his shows, acting nearly as much as a director as a designer: he outfits runway models, adds snapshots to a pinboard, cuts swaths of fabric. Work was what energized him and kept his demons at bay. They also show the stark contrast between McQueen’s own understated style–he wears jeans and a pink gingham shirt in many of the photos–and the wild, avant-garde garments he created. The images offer an intimate look behind-the-scenes of fashion’s enfant terrible during the tragic twilight of his career.
Nick Waplington/Alexander McQueen: Working Process will be on view at London’s Tate Modern from March 10 to May 17, 2015. Alexander McQueen: Working Process, Photographs by Nick Waplington is available from Damiani Press for $62 here.