Afternoon Tea with Alexander McQueen at the Kensington Hotel and the V&A
If you’re in London at the moment, then you will most definitely have heard of the Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition that’s just opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum in South Kensington. The exhibition runs until 2nd August 2015 and before opening it had already sold a record-breaking 30,000 advance tickets, in part because the exhibition had received such great fanfare when it was shown in the New York’s Met Museum in 2011, and in part due to the huge fame that has accompanied Alexander McQueen since he committed suicide in 2010. I was fortunate enough to visit the exhibition in its first week and do it justice with a fully Alexander McQueen themed outing.
We began at the nearby Kensington Hotel with their Fashion Forward Afternoon Tea, inspired by Alexander McQueen’s creations and designed by the hotel’s talented chefs. Upon arrival, I strolled through various elegant reception rooms and past guests relaxing in smart brown leather pinned armchairs, through the Town House bar and into a duck blue colour drawing room of pristine, white tables, with walls lined with bookshelves, where I found two of my favourite things: 1) a bucket full of champagne bottles on ice and 2) a roaring fire. I was greeted with a glass of champagne and settled down at our table, adorned with glistening silverware and a duck blue set of fine china.
The afternoon tea itself is served on three-tiers and comprises finger sandwiches and savoury delicacies such as foie gras and quails eggs, homemade buttermilk scones with Devonshire clotted cream and jab and finally on the upper most tier, the Alexander McQueen themed desserts: a cherry Genoese skull clutch, a red velvet and rose water butterfly cupcake and a buttermilk pannacotta with raspberry in the form of a 2008 Alexander McQueen gown. It was all surprisingly filling and I can’t believe it but I even had to leave some of the delectable treats! McQueen’s real designs beckoned.
The Kensington Hotel is less than a five minute walk to the V&A on Cromwell Road, so their Fashion Forward Afternoon Tea before or after is the ideal companion. It costs £35 per person and is also open to non-guests. Champagne is not included in the price, but they do offer a good selection of teas. If you’re staying as a guest at the Kensington Hotel then the Concierge can also book your tickets for the V&A exhibition for you. To get the full experience you can book the Fashion Forward Experience for £335, including a night’s accommodation, two open tickets to the V&A exhibition, the Fashion Forward afternoon tea for two, an Alexander McQueen exhibition book and a Full English Breakfast.
The exhibition itself really exceeded my expectations. For a start, it is really big with over 10 separate rooms, so make sure you allow plenty of time to explore. It’s an incredibly theatrical exhibition – more reminiscent of a theme park “experience” than of a traditional museum in my opinion. Some have likened it to a haunted house. Each room is individually themed, decorated, lit and soundtracked to suit a particular collection or moment during McQueen’s 18-year career in fashion.
Working chronologically through his career you pass through rooms such as ‘London Influence’ (his upbringing in London alongside his Scottish heritage reflected in Tartans and harsh cages covering the models faces), ‘Romantic Goth’ (a sinister room where women seem converted into animals and birds), ‘Romantic Privitism’ (African tribalism and the fantasy of a shipwreck complete with pirate and Amazonian characters) and ‘Romantic Nationalism’ (regal, almost Grecian, white and red silk and feather gowns and tartan). Each of the previous rooms were enthralling enough but it’s at this point that you enter the ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’, a tall-ceilinged room of accessories that spin and move as if in a jewellery box. Seeing his creations all come to live in this way is absolutely spectacular and has to be my favourite part of the entire exhibition.
Following on from here, you come across the ghost illusion of Kate Moss, ‘Romantic Exoticism’ (a diversion into space age Japanese-looking pieces), ‘Voss’ (a study of the politics of appearance which up-ends conventional ideals of beauty), ‘Romantic Naturalism’ (a collection of florals, pastels and yet more feathers) and finally ‘Plato’s Atlantis’ (a surreal underwater and futurist vision which was McQueen’s last complete show before his death). I’ve barely touched on the decor and music in each of these rooms, but you honestly feel like you are walking through a world inside Alexander McQueen’s imagination, seeing how his creations were far more about the pure art of fashion, and also about the performance art of staging his elaborate and often controversial and shocking catwalk shows. Completely unlike any other fashion exhibition I have ever attended, the immersive nature of Savage Beauty had me utterly captivated! While I couldn’t take photos inside the exhibition, I can’t recommend enough that you pay a visit to it. Even if you’re not that interested in fashion, the very experience itself makes it a winner for all.
I certainly learnt a huge amount about Alexander McQueen and his creative genius. Pertinent considering his eventual demise in 2010, there is one particular quote displayed which concisely sums up the contrasts and range of emotions and influences you’ll find in his exhibition:
“I oscillate between life and death, happiness and sadness, good and evil”.