On February 11 2010, the world of fashion held its breath for the news was far too tragic to comprehend so suddenly. Visionary fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen had committed suicide at the age of 40 in his London flat. For a figure adored and worshipped by the cult of fashion, it was inconceivable to many that he could take his own life.
McQueen’s career is characterized by his shock and awe tactic, pushing the boundaries of what we can conceive as the norm for fashion. Born in 1969, the London native left school at the age of 16 to follow up apprenticeships with Savile Row tailors Anderson and Shephard and Gieves and Hawkes, as well as costumiers Angels and Bermans. It was during these formative years that he learnt the practical skills of technical clothing construction, skills that are apparent in his signature modernist, avant-garde tailoring. He then spent some years bouncing around as a design assistant until finally enrolling in the Masters programme at Central Saint Martins in London. His graduation collection in 1992 caused splash when it purchased in it’s totality by Isabella Blow, a woman who would be his mentor, his champion and his friend for the majority of his career.
In 1996 Bernard Arnault of LVMH Group offered the young McQueen what seemed like the opportunity of a lifetime: Creative Director of Givenchy. His appointment caused quite a stir amongst the French press who were quick to dub him ‘l’enfant terrible’. His tenure at Givenchy was marred by a poor relationship with the management and the ethos of the brand. In the end it was just about the money, as he was never allowed any creative freedom that might overshadow Dior. He parted ways abruptly with Givenchy after selling a 51% share of his name to Gucci SpA, archrival of LVMH.
While it would be nice to cover all the collections that Mr. McQueen gifted us, there are hallmarks of his career that deserve honourable mention rather than a fast global overview. One of his earliest contributions that changed fashion were the “bumster” trousers. These over-exposing, hyper-low slung pants succeeded in pushing down the waistbands of women’s trousers in general. While most of High Street never took to the derrière exposing style, it dramatically changed to boundaries for what was acceptable. The “hipster” was born in the late-90s as a response to McQueen’s game changing pants. Another of his designs to be well received by high street was the skull print scarf. Worn around one’s neck or as an adornment to a handbag, the design has encouraged many counterfeit or shameless imitations due to it’s sheer popularity. Sales of the aforementioned scarf rose astronomically after news of his death broke and all stock in the UK was sold out with in hours.
In terms of runway shows, Alexander McQueen envisioned them more as theatrical or performance art, rather than a cut and dry fashion show. His catwalks were a spectacle to behold and one of the hottest invitations on the London and later Paris Fashion Week schedules. One of the first shows to garner controversial attention was 1995’s “Highland Rape” which involved torn garments embellished with dangling tampon strings. Summer ’99 saw the models walk out on the catwalk only to be attacked by spray paint shooting out of robotic arms.For his autumn/winter 06/07 collection, a hologram of Kate Moss was projected onto to the runway.Even his last collection, “Plato’s Atlantis” for Summer ’10 is one of his most memorable, with the shoes, 12 inch high platforms dubbed ‘armadillo shoes’ causing top models to quit the show, media outlets to question fashion vs. art and one Lady Gaga to immortalize the design in the most watched YouTube video of all time.
McQueen’s mark on the fashion world is indelible and he will always be remembered for the true genius he was.
- Cartner-Morley, Jess. “Boy done good”. The Guardian. Accessed 28 April 2010.
- Rawi, Maysa and Tamara Abraham. “Alexander McQueen: A life in fashion.” Daily Mail Online. Accessed 28 April 2010.
- Vaidyanathan, Rajini. “Six ways Alexander McQueen changed fashion.” BBC News. Accessed 1 May 2010
- Addley, Esther and Imogen Fox. “Alexander McQueen fans flood to shops to pick up mementoes of the late designer.” Times Online. Accessed 2 May 2010
Addley, Esther and Imogen Fox. “Alexander McQueen fans flood to shops to pick up mementoes of the late designer.” 12 February 2010. Times Online.
Alexander, Hilary. “Deep Sea Devotion: Alexander McQueen’s ‘Manta’ Designs.” 15 Mar 2010. Times Online.
“Alexander McQueen: About McQueen.” 2010. alexandermqueen.com.
“Alexander McQueen’s 10 Best Shows.” 11 February 2010. The Daily Beast.
“Alexander McQueen: The Times obituary.” 12 February 2010. Times Online Obituary.
Armstrong, Lisa. “Death, S&M, violence and religion were all there on Alexander McQueen’s catwalk.” 11 February 2010. Times Online.
Cartner-Morley, Jess. “Boy done good.” 19 September 2005. The Guardian.
“Obituary: Fashion king Alexander McQueen.” 11 February 2010. BBC News.
“Profile: Alexander McQueen, the ‘hooligan’ of English fashion.” 11 February 2010. Times Online.
Rawi, Maysa and Tamara Abraham. “Alexander McQueen: A life in fashion.” 25 February 2010. Daily Mail Online.
ShowStudio/Live. “In Camera: Alexander McQueen (transcript).” 16 December 2003. ShowStudio.
Tran, Mark. “Fashion designer Alexander McQueen dies aged 40.” 11 February 2010. guardian.co.uk.
Vaidyanathan, Rajini. “Six ways Alexander McQueen changed fashion.” 12 February 2010. BBC News.