A decade on from Lee Alexander McQueen’s passing, his renowned creative spirit and ethos of pushing boundaries continues to support creatively fearless emerging artists through the Sarabande Foundation.

By Sonia Kovacevic.

Sarabande was initially conceived by Lee Alexander McQueen and named after his 2007 Spring/Summer show. Knowing firsthand the difficulty of establishing oneself as an artist without financial backing, it was his way of quietly offering support and opportunities for budding talent that were pushing creative boundaries.

Following his death in 2010, the majority of his bequest was left to the foundation, and over the years Sarabande has evolved with a multifaceted approach that aims to best support unique emerging talent in their creative journey. Since it officially opened in 2015, Sarabande has supported 85 artists from 26 countries across a myriad of disciplines, and will reach 100 by the end of the year.

The foundation offers educational scholarships, which are chosen by a third party judge, and have previously included Dior’s creative director Kim Jones, photographer Sølve Sundsbø, designer Thom Browne and artist Sadie Coles. It also provides fifteen heavily subsidized studio spaces in Haggerston, east London. The converted warehouse boasts a big art gallery and an exhibition space, which doubles as a space for talks, events and educational programming, such as workshops and inspirational talks. In addition to the Sarabande recipients, thousands of people congregate yearly in this melting pot of creativity and information.

Artist, Camilla Hanney

Accessibility is essential to the foundation. Trino Verkade, one of the founding trustees, and McQueen’s first employee and right hand woman, shares “We don’t want to be elitist. I think sometimes people feel art is elitist, and it isn’t. This really is just about new young ideas coming together for everybody to think”. To facilitate this vision, all the exhibitions are free, and the practical talks are 3 pounds and extremely thorough and visual in content.

Aiming to cultivate the form of creativity that McQueen was both fond of and a master at, Sarabande looks for studio applicants that have a fearless zeal towards their craft, a unique vision and impeccable execution. “They are not commercial ideas that we are looking for” says Verkade, “We are looking for people who have big ideas, who are posing questions about the future and why we see things in a certain way.” Discussing the values embedded in Sarabande, Verkade expresses that the current landscape towards creativity is often centred on markers of financial success, and that’s not actually what drives the value system that Sarabande lives by.

While there are no requirements regarding previous study or work experience, Verkade prefers not to take artists straight out of college. “It’s a very safe environment being in Sarabande, and I don’t want it to feel like an extension of college. We always say that we are an accelerator, rather than an incubator”. All ideas and disciplines are welcomed, and difference is embraced. “It really is just defined by a vision you have to do something that is unique and different, and a passion for the craft and execution that goes into your work”. And this work can cover a broad spectrum, spanning across art, film, photography, fashion design, millinery, shoe-making, graphics, jewelry, metalwork, and installation.

Craig Green was one of the first designers to be given a studio at Sarabande. At the time, he was unable to afford a studio space, but during his time enveloped in the nurturing support from the patrons and mentors, his team grew from one to seven, and his business 200%.

Artist, Paula Mihovilovic

With a board that is focused on charitable compliance, the foundation is creatively supported by patrons, friends and mentors who understand and reflect the ethos of Sarabande, “understanding one is neither artist nor designer. You are literally a creative who can apply yourself across various disciplines. It’s your vision”, says Verkade. Patrons include Andrew Bolton, Tim Blanks, Naomi Campbell, Nick Knight, Shaun Leane and Sam Taylor-Johnson, and the mentors are also experts in their respective fields and offer invaluable practical advice for emerging artists.

The community and information hub that develops within the walls of Sarabande, not only provide recipients with industry experts and access, but also fosters collaboration and experimentation among the peers. “The team at Sarabande cannot be the solution for everything, and we shouldn’t be,” says Verkade, who actively encourages an open dialogue among the artists.

“Human nature still comes together. We are still excited by people who make us think and ideas that make us think”, she continues. As a testament to Alexander McQueen, who redefined the meaning of fashion, his principles and values echo through Sarabande.


Photos courtesy of Sarabande Foundation.
Banner: Artist, Liam Johnson, Homepage: Artist, Joshua Beaty