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Alexander McQueen and Philip Treacy

Alexander McQueen was enormously talented and also recognised talent in others. His collaborations with a variety of designers helped him to realise his creative ambitions. McQueen’s collaboration with hat maker Philip Treacy was particularly productive. The two designers were introduced to each other in 1992 by fashion editor Isabella Blow, who became a mentor, muse and champion to both. Treacy, describing Blow’s influence, said,

‘If you were in her focus, she made you feel like you could do anything. She gave Alexander the confidence to be the person he was.’

Treacy characterised McQueen’s approach to commissioning as very hands off. It was often stylist Katy England who facilitated the development of Treacy’s designs for McQueen. Meeting the hat designer armed with images and ideas for linking headpieces and hats to the season’s collection, England’s input often proved invaluable. Treacy, in describing the speed of this design process for McQueen, said,

‘There was a period of fear…when you’d wonder how you’d get it done in time.’ McQueen would only see the hats a couple of hours before the show and, in Treacy’s words, ‘It wasn’t an option to disappoint him.’

In 1999, V&A Fashion Curator Claire Wilcox established live catwalk shows in the Museum. Titled Fashion in Motion, the first designer to take part was Philip Treacy (who then introduced Alexander McQueen, the subject of the V&A’s second Fashion in Motion presentation). These early events featured models winding through the Museum’s galleries, allowing V&A visitors to see garments and accessories being worn, as opposed to shown in a static museum display.

Treacy incorporated a variety of materials into his work for McQueen, mirroring the designer’s own preoccupation with the natural world. Treacy’s explorations included frequent use of feathers (even entire bird wings), horsehair, banana fibre, straw and ram’s horns. He said, ‘when using those materials, I’m drawing with them. I treat them as one would draw with a pencil.’ Some of Treacy’s designs are illustrated here. Dating across several of McQueen’s collections, they show not just the designer’s varied materials but also his continual redefinition of what a hat could look like.

In addition to designing hats for fashion designers’ collections, Treacy also creates special commissions for private clients. He said, ‘I work for many types of people, from a 20 year old girl, to a mum, to a pop star, to a movie star to a member of the Royal family.’ Treacy’s hats hold appeal for women who are bold and confident in their wardrobe choices. Treacy said,

‘People that are fearless can get away with more. Some people can make the most extraordinary hat look like a little pillbox. When you design something for somebody … you are gently encouraging them to go a little step further than they’d planned to go.’

In partnership with Swarovski

Swarovski is delighted to partner the V&A in bringing Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty to London. The crystal house and Alexander McQueen share a rich history, beginning in the 1990s when Isabella Blow introduced the young maverick designer to Nadja Swarovski. Swarovski went on to support McQueen’s Spring/Summer 1999 collection, the first of numerous collaborations including the creation, alongside Tord Boontje, of the V&A’s Grand Entrance crystal Christmas tree in 2003; and the dramatic Swarovski Gemstone-encrusted Bird’s Nest Headdress for his Autumn/Winter 2006 collection. Swarovski has worked with designers since Daniel Swarovski’s precision-cut stones became prized ingredients in the dressmaking ateliers of Paris, beginning the tradition of close collaboration between Swarovski and haute couture that remains to this day.​

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