McQueen's fashion vision on show at NGV

It's a delivery unlike any other: 60 outfits by renowned fashion designer Alexander McQueen have been crated to Melbourne from Los Angeles for a blockbuster show at the National Gallery of Victoria.

In a closed off room at the gallery, white-gloved staff are unpacking and checking over each garment before placing it carefully on a mannequin and wrapping it in a protective sheet.

Every one of McQueen's designs is beautiful and strange.

One dress comes with a woven head covering with branches emerging from each side - a fairytale princess who descends to the earth from a tree.

Another is encrusted with gold beading, referencing Elizabeth Taylor's Cleopatra in the 1963 film.

The NGV's Katie Somerville explains that for McQueen, unlike a lot of designers, the concept for a collection or runway spectacle always came first.

"That's quite innovative and exciting and explains why his presentations of his collections were so remarkable. They just broke new ground," she told AAP.

McQueen became one of the most significant fashion designers of the late 20th century before his death by suicide aged 40 in 2010.

The works on loan from Los Angeles County Museum of Art will be combined with more than 50 outfits from the NGV, together representing all but five of the 36 collections McQueen created during his career.

Some of those collections became notorious: McQueen's Highland Rape show for autumn-winter 1995 referenced England's pillaging of his ancestral Scotland with blood-spattered models in torn clothes but critics at the time felt it glamorised sexual assault.

There could be hundreds of ideas behind each McQueen collection but Somerville explained the designer could only pull them off thanks to his time as an apprentice on Savile Row.

"Everyone focuses on the rebellion and the sort of anti-authority angle but in actual fact, he only could do that so brilliantly because he understood the tradition," she said.

"He understood how to construct something impeccably... and from that he was able to mess with it, deconstruct it to make his own statement."

McQueen has influenced not only the way high-end runway shows are staged but fashion on the streets: he can largely be blamed for the low-slung trousers trend of the mid-1990s.

He died with an almost-finished collection that was finished by former assistant Sarah Burton, who took over the reins at his label and was posthumously title Angels and Demons.

Five of the works from that collection feature in the NGV show, prompting speculation about the wonders McQueen might have created if he were still alive today.

He may well have moved on from fashion and turned to film or photography, Somerville said, but his work would certainly still be breaking new ground.

Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse opens December 11 at NGV International.

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