Louise Rytter worked as the assistant curator of Alexander McQueen’s ‘Savage Beauty’, the V&A’s most visited exhibition. Attracting almost 500,000 people during its 21-week run, ‘Savage Beauty’ was curated by Claire Wilcox and celebrated the creative genius of Alexander McQueen. With input from McQueen’s close collaborators, including stylist Katy England, musician John Gosling and producer Sam Gainsbury, the V&A honoured McQueen’s extraordinary talent. Volt sat down with Louise Rytter to find out what it was like to work on ‘Savage Beauty’.
You graduated from Central Saint Martins in 2013 doing fashion communication & promotion, how did you find yourself in curating?
It was a very natural transition. I am from Denmark, and I have always been fascinated by fashion history. Danish fashion does not have the same heritage as it does here, and I have always been fascinated by the British fashion industry. I remember visiting the V&A as a child and being completely mesmerised by the fashion gallery. It was here I fell in love with storytelling and the impact an exhibition can have on visitors and society. While at Central Saint Martins, I interned at The Gentlewoman magazine and at the V&A. The experience working for editor-in-chief Penny Martin and senior curator Oriole Cullen was incredible and informed my interest in pursuing a career in curating.
Do you think fashion is art?
That’s a very big question. I think McQueen made fashion into art. McQueen took everything to another level, not just the silhouettes he made, and the way he empowered women, but also how he collaborated with so many talented people and made his catwalk shows into a spectacle. The pieces that McQueen presented on the catwalk were almost made for museums to display, because of their craftsmanship, references to fashion history and powerful comments on society. The finale of ‘No.13, spring/summer 1999’ featured former ballerina Shalom Harlow in a white trapeze dress. As she walked onto the stage, two robots began spray-painting her dress with black and yellow paint. It was beautiful and terrifying. It was as if the robots were dancing with Shalom Harlow, but at the same time they were almost attacking her. In an instant and almost Jackson Pollock moment. The spectacle was inspired by the German artist Rebecca Horn’s performance piece ‘High Moon’ from 1991. This spectacle and the dress were a celebration of art and the fight between man and machine.
Shalom Harlow in McQueen’s ‘No.13’ finale, Image via harpersbazaar.com
Do you think fashion belongs in museums?
Yes, but not everything. Since working on the exhibition, I have become more critical of fashion presented in museums. There is currently a huge interest in fashion exhibitions, and a lot of them.
How did you get involved with Savage Beauty?
The opportunity arose when I was working as assistant curator on the V&A’s exhibition ‘Wedding Dresses 1775 – 2014’, assisting curator Edwina Ehrman. I applied for the job and was lucky enough to be offered the unique opportunity to be part of the curatorial team. It was an honour assisting Claire Wilcox who is an incredible curator, woman and mentor. Her knowledge of fashion is extraordinary, and she is a real visionary. Working on Savage Beauty was really special, because the entire Museum got together to deliver the exhibition, publication, website, events and learning programme. We all felt honoured to work on Savage Beauty and pay tribute to the most inspiring designer of our generation. Savage Beauty also celebrated McQueen’s close collaborators and their contribution to fashion. The exhibition would not have been possible without them. I’m especially thinking of stylist Katy England, musician John Gosling and producer Sam Gainsbury.
‘Savage Beauty at the V&A ‘ Image via The Guardian
Were you a fan of Alexander McQueen’s work before getting involved with Savage Beauty?
Yes. I studied at Central Saint Martins and McQueen is part of its DNA. His tutors and contemporaries are still teaching there, and his work continues to inspire and amaze.
What was your favourite part in the process of planning and curating Savage Beauty?
My favourite part was being responsible for the tours and talks for people with disabilities. How do you translate the energy of John Gosling’s soundscape to hearing impaired people? And how do you explain the Shalom Harlow moment to visually impaired people? It was a challenge but definitely the most rewarding part of my job. I got to meet an incredible group of visitors and they taught me a lot about storytelling through sound and objects. I would love to work on a project like this again.
Savage Beauty is the biggest curating production you have been involved in. When representing such an iconic designer there must have been a host of rules and limitations around the curating process. Do you feel this confined yours and Claire Wilcox’s ideas and perhaps changed your perception of the idea of curating?
The exhibition was unique because it was made in collaboration with the Alexander McQueen fashion house, McQueen’s close collaborators, his family and The Metropolitan Museum of Art. McQueen had a lifelong connection with the V&A, regularly exploring the Museum’s archives to seek inspiration for his visionary designs. Savage Beauty at the V&A was in a way McQueen’s homecoming. It was therefore important to Claire and the Museum that the people who knew McQueen the best would be involved in the development of the exhibition.
‘Alexander McQuuen’ Image via The Telegraph
It is known that one of McQueen’s greatest inspirations for his work was life and death, to the point that McQueen’s death can be seen as a part of fulfilling his vision for his brand. Do you think McQueen’s death had an impact in the success of Savage Beauty?
I don’t know and no one will ever know. I think what made Savage Beauty so successful was bringing the exhibition home to London, and celebrating McQueen in his hometown. London was the heart of McQueen’s world, and the city provided him with endless inspiration. McQueen’s career is fascinating, and I think people really responded to the story of the East End working class boy who would become one of the most visionary designers of our generation. There will never be another McQueen, and the exhibition celebrated his extraordinary contribution to fashion.
What’s the next step in your career?
I left the V&A before Christmas last year to focus more on teaching and freelance work. It’s been a few busy and exciting months. I’ve become really passionate about digital storytelling, as it offers new possibilities to creating a better and more sustainable world.
Words & gif by: Marija Filipova
Tagsalexander mcqueen, assistant curator, curator, exhibition, fashion, Interview, louise rytter, museum, Savage Beauty, V&A, Victoria & Albert museum,