Alexander McQueen show becomes V&A’s most popular

Dresses on display during a press view of the exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Picture: PA
Dresses on display during a press view of the exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Picture: PA
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FASHION designer Alexander McQueen has set a box office record five years after his death.

More than 480,000 tickets were sold for Savage Beauty - the Victoria and Albert Museum’s theatrical, romantic and sometimes eerie exhibition of McQueen’s work which closed last night.

Alexander McQueen died five years ago. Picture: PA

Alexander McQueen died five years ago. Picture: PA

It is now the most the most popular show to be staged at the museum.

High demand during the 21-week run saw V&A chiefs open the museum overnight for the first time for an exhibition. These overnight openings were introduced in the final two weekends and ran from 10pm to 5.30am. They added another 15,000 tickets to the overall sales.

As the record-breaking show ended, V&A deputy director Tim Reeve said: “We planned for it to be more successful than David Bowie (the V&A’s 2013 show which sold 311,956 tickets) but getting 480,000 visitors is over 100,000 more than we expected to get.

“We have a lot of experience running big exhibitions but we did not predict it would be that big.”

Dresses on display during a press view of the exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. Picture: PA

Dresses on display during a press view of the exhibition Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty. Picture: PA

With the benefit of hindsight he believes even more tickets could have been sold as approximately 4,000 people were able to see the show each day by the end of its run, compared to about 2,500 people in the earlier stages.

Savage Beauty has surged ahead of the visitor numbers for the V&A biggest sell-out shows including Art Deco which sold 359,499 tickets in 2003 and last year’s Wedding Dresses exhibition which pulled in 316,090 visitors. There were 251,738 tickets bought for the Hollywood Costume show in 2012 along with 245,112 for the Ballgowns: British Glamour exhibition in the same year.

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Mr Reeve said Savage Beauty was delivered on a £3 million contract which is “way more than this museum has ever spent on a show before”.

Everything was turned off and cleaned for 90 minutes after the overnight openings ended at 5.30am ahead of the museum reopening at 8am.

Mr Reeve said: “It is very tight. During these two weekends the museum got to rest for an hour-and-a-half every 24 hours. It was quite a tech-heavy exhibition with a lot equipment, holographs, audio and film.”

It included a 3D holograph of Kate Moss gently twirling in a glass pyramid and the famous dress worn on a model who has two robotic arms fire paint at her.

The show featured McQueen’s eye-catching and bizarre creations - in materials ranging from wool, feathers to shell - starting from his days as a degree show sensation through to being a global design star.

McQueen, 40, a taxi driver’s son from London and a frequent V&A visitor, killed himself on the eve of his beloved mother Joyce’s funeral in February 2010.

Savage Beauty has been a balancing act between getting people in, ensuring they have a good time and managing the inevitable queues. A specialist firm was hired to manage the waiting times including 15-minute slots for people to enter the show.

Mr Reeve said: “Your first reaction is ‘oh my God’ we have committed to spend £3 million on a show that is going to be on for 21 weeks - what happens if they don’t come?

“Then you see all the reaction on social media and see that the world is waiting for this to happen.

“About four of five weeks in we knew it was going to be successful and then could enjoy it and try to improve it. You are able to start figuring out which galleries people are enjoying and spending their time in.

“It is then as a team at the museum you feel a sense of pride. Everyone in the museum and fashion world has been talking about it.

“The museum’s less sexy collections will get a benefit from that. Many people who came to see the Alexander McQueen or the David Bowie show had never come to the V&A before. Many became members to get in and then they stayed.”

V&A also lured overseas visitors from places such as Germany, France, Holland, Belgium, Italy and Spain on the basis that they were close enough to Britain to consider a day-trip to the McQueen retrospective, which will not be staged anywhere else again.

It was based on the Savage Beauty show at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011.

Planning for the London exhibition started in 2012 but contracts were only signed around 12 months before it opened in March.

With all the research and talks needed to loaning objects from private collectors for something of this scale, an exhibition like this could have been four or five years in the making, according to Mr Reeve.

He said: “It was skin-of-teeth stuff but it was all worth it. Shows like this do not come along very often. This will never be seen again.”