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Unseen McQueen photographs on show at Foyles

Exhibition preview

A COLLECTION of previously unseen, backstage photographs from Alexander McQueen’s seminal show Dante, are to be displayed for the first time at the Gallery at Foyles from March 20 to May 3, 2015.

The striking images are taken from Kent Baker’s new book, Inferno: Alexander McQueen, published on March 30, 2015, by Laurence King Publishing.

The exhibition is curated by Olly Walker and Futurecity.

Iconic British fashion designer Alexander McQueen was a recent Central St Martin’s graduate when in 1996 he showcased an early collection Dante at Nicholas Hawksmoor’s architectural masterpiece Christchurch in Spitalfields. The audience was treated to an evening of theatrical spectacle.

Photographer Kent Baker, a member of McQueen’s intimate circle of friends, was in a unique position to capture a singular moment: the emergence of a radical and visionary force in contemporary fashion.

Shot entirely on film, Baker’s on-the-fly backstage photographs echo reportage photography whilst perfectly capturing the excitement and baroque theatre of the evening. At the centre is Alexander McQueen, directing proceedings, at his side Kent Baker quietly recording a portrait of the surprisingly intimate friendships and interdependent creative relationships, which together shaped a sublimely unforgettable moment in British fashion history.

“I said that night that I’d like to bring a camera backstage at Dante. I promised to keep a low profile. To my surprise, Lee said okay,” says Baker in his introduction to Inferno (Laurence King). “As it worked out, everyone there, including me, knew each other socially as well as being colleagues and I’d shot many of the models at one time or another, so my presence wasn’t out of place. In the end Lee was even suggesting shots for me to take.”

Dante was the first time the rich coherent visual narrative and sculptural presence that became synonymous with his name had been seen at Alexander McQueen. Set on a candlelit cruciform catwalk, the show’s atmospheric staging referenced performance art and immersive theatre. What followed was a half-hour spectacle presenting models clad in surreal shapes and cuts, aggressive, yet elegant.

Many of the models were local East End kids approached to take part; the collection was positioned firmly in the luxury market, but it spoke about reality and the street more than the world of establishment fashion.

Nothing like it had been seen before on the London catwalk, explains Melanie Rickey in her introduction to Inferno: “Twelve minutes into the show darkness fell and LL Cool J’s Mama Said Knock You Out was subsumed by disembodied Gregorian chanting as lighting designer Simon Chaudoir’s 20-kilowatt light exploded through the giant stained-glass window of the church, rendering everyone, as I remember it, utterly mute.”

In striking contrast to the opulence of the Dante show that the audience experienced, Baker’s portraits reveal the inner workings of this incredible project; hair and make-up artists, fashion stylists and costume fitters, jewellers, prop suppliers and a cast of models. Many of the young models and designers Baker captured on that extraordinary night have gone on to become global names in their respective fields.

Colin Ledwith, Senior Curator of Futurecity, comments: “Kent Baker’s exceptional and beautiful documentary shots perfectly capture an emerging career caught in an electric moment, revealing just how much one man’s singular vision was destined to challenge and fundamentally alter notions of beauty through the lens of contemporary fashion.”

Mohara Gill, Head of Art at Foyles, comments: “Beautifully crafted with reminisces of that eventful night, the accompanying catalogue from design specialists Laurence King is the definitive chronicle on one of McQueen’s most original and creative collections.”

Kent Baker will be in conversation with Olly Walker (Creative Director), Jean Wainwright (Professor of Contemporary Art and Photography, UCA & Associate at Futurecity), and Melanie Rickey (Journalist, Fashion Editor and Trend Consultant) on Saturday, April 11 at Foyles, Charing Cross Road.

Admission: Free.

Opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 9.30am to 9pm; Sundays, 11.30am to 6pm (11.30am – 12 noon browsing only). The Café closes 30 minutes before the shop.

Level 5, Foyles, 107 Charing Cross Road, London, WC2H 0DT