Stars turn out in full force to honour the late Alexander McQueen in London fashion show

London (AFP) - Stars turned out to honour the late "enfant terrible" of British fashion, Alexander McQueen, on Thursday, the opening party of a London show celebrating the designer five years after his death.

More than 70,000 tickets have already sold for the Savage Beauty show, which opens to the public on Saturday at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

The director calls it an "emotional homecoming" for the designer who committed suicide in 2010 aged 40 and is remembered as one of Britain's most influential cultural figures of recent times.

The fashion world was out in force for the opening, attended by Britain's David and Victoria Beckham and models Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Eva Herzigova and Poppy Delevingne in full ball gowns.

They were joined at the dinner by Mexican-born film star Salma Hayek, English actor Colin Firth in a tuxedo and Britain's Princess Beatrice.

On view from Saturday are 240 outfits typifying McQueen's distinctive and occasionally bizarre style in the museum's largest ever fashion exhibition.

Curator Claire Wilcox described McQueen as "one of the most influential designers of his generation who shocked with his spectacular and powerful catwalk shows".

The exhibition, she said, was a reflection of his "elaborate storytelling, craftsmanship of the highest level" and his romantic obsession with nature.

On display are technical skills honed as an apprentice on London's exclusive Savile Row and characterised by precisely tailored curves and exaggerated silhouettes that became his trademark.

Research assistant Louise Rytter revealed that McQueen was an avid watcher of nature programmes, reflected in the use of animal parts including pheasant and goose feathers, razor clam shells, jewel-studded bird skulls, crocodile heads and antlers. Some costumes are inspired by gazelles, others conjure up images of ostriches.

"I think he was inspired by nature because it was so unpredictable," she said. "The savage, animals that are wild and untamed, living in the free.

"He always questioned beauty, it's not conventional," she added. "In the early days it was more raw and he was very personal. He was an untamed designer."

There is a hint of his untamed side - recently laid bare in a controversial biography - in nightmarish leather-masked mannequins sporting Victorian Gothic dresses.

It was McQueen's vision, his exploration of historical and political themes and collaborations with members of the Young British Art (YBA) movement of the early 1990s that led Rytter to call him a genuine artist.

"You can consider him as one of the YBAs because he had craftsmanship but he also created a spectacle," she said.

"He drew in so many inspirations from art," she added. "He was surrounded by all these young British pop artists who were pushing Britain forward."

His interest in politics and history are underlined by a row of mannequins in tartan, inspired by his Scottish roots, facing off against models in imperious red, white and gold robes of feathers, furs and gems.

The display echoes the 1995 Highland Rape show, which explored the historic treatment of Highland Scots by English rulers, cementing his reputation as fashion's "enfant terrible".

Audio clips of McQueen played throughout the exhibition celebrate the influence of London on his career.

"It brings the man into the exhibition and emphasises the importance of London, the capital city, his home where he grew up, where he was educated and where he started showing his collections," Wilcox told AFP.

Reflecting his love of the macabre, the Cabinet of Curiosity offers quirky garments and accessories, including work with other designers.

Most stunning perhaps is supermodel Kate Moss, McQueen's close friend, appearing as a giant floating hologram draped in one of his ethereal white-feather creations.

Also on show are the distinctive "armadillo" shoes worn by Lady Gaga in the video for Bad Romance.

Fashion forecaster and early visitor Jaana Jatyri said the show would further burnish McQueen's legacy.

"He was an inspiration to fashion consumers and also to designers," she said. "He will come back to life, I am sure, through this exhibition."