On 11th February 2010, Lee Alexander McQueen committed suicide, an act that shocked the whole world. He was one of a kind, ingenious, witty and mad. In his work, he combined the raw power of the nature and romance of women. Beautiful and wild. Possibly, McQueen couldn’t take everything that life threw at him. Maybe he couldn’t get over the loss of his mother. He left this world in a very egoistic and theatrical manner but his name has found its place between the greatest fashion stars of all times and his brand continues to live successfully.
Alexander McQueen (1969-2010) was a British fashion designer and couturier, who had the reputation of a fashion hooligan and a bad boy of British fashion. Despite his rebellious reputation, he worked for five years as the chief designer at Givenchy, the famous French fashion house. At the same time, he developed his own brand that still exists to this day and continues to make creative work. After the death of Alexander McQueen, Gucci announced that the fashion house Alexander McQueen will continue to work and Sarah Burton, McQueen’s long-term assistant, became the new creative director of the company.
In countless interviews, McQueen has mentioned that he doesn’t remember doing anything other than creating designs for clothes. Just like many young designers, he was passionately doing his job, without anticipating the great fame that would soon envelop him. He started his carrier at Anderson & Sheppard, an honourable tailors’ atelier, and at the same time worked in several other creative ateliers, gaining the reputation of an impeccable tailor. In 1992, he presented his thesis at the Central St Martins college, which was highly evaluated by Isabella Blow, a fashion icon and one of the most important fashion magazines’ editors of the time. Isabella and McQueen became close friends and companions. She describes McQueen in a short and laconic way “He’s a wild bird and I think he makes clothes fly!”
What has McQueen brought to the world of fashion?
As Alexander McQueen himself points out – in his collections he shows what other designers don’t want to show. McQueen’s work shows the urban and rough city environment, the dizzy nightlife, the homeless people. He says that his direction is much more direct and genuine. Even though these topics don’t match the glamorous world of fashion, he thinks that he needs to know what happens in the real world, and represent his experiences in his work. Each of his fashion shows was a performance, a provocation, a challenge to the viewer. His fantasy had no limits; it combined nature, politics, and culture. From a technical point of view, he was interested in the proportions, structure and colours of clothing. His crazy ideas were a story that represented the magnificent and wild essence of women, and very importantly, the technical side of his work was always perfect. These are the facts that prove McQueen’s geniality.
Often in interviews and stories of fashion critics, McQueen gets mentioned alongside John Galliano, his contemporary and a fellow rising star that similarly gained a special status and respect among fashion enthusiasts. They respected and highly valued each other’s work. In 1997, in an interview with Charlie Rose, McQueen reveals that his image of a woman is independent, ambitious, and powerful. In contrast, Galliano’s one is idealised, very feminine and finely made. McQueen used to talk very openly about the fashion industry, he wanted people to see it in a different light. “The world of fashion isn’t shallow, but a lot depends on whose ass you kiss. I don’t. There are people that I like and respect. Everyone has one chance to prove themselves. […] People see me as a crazy designer but in reality I’m a very simple person, maybe the US will be disappointed with me,” says McQueen.
Differently from other people, McQueen used to talk freely about his mistakes and mishaps, saying that one needs to try things to find out if they work. One has to try and bring their ideas to life.
The British photographer Nick Knight worked with McQueen from 1996 up until his death. Their creative work exceeded every limit and was yet another challenge to fashion connoisseurs. In 1998, Knight started documenting his projects and the people who he worked with, including McQueen. Thanks to his recordings, we have the chance to look into McQueen’s world from a different perspective. The way they first met was as unusual as their collaboration. In Unseen: McQueen, a series of interviews, Knight reveals that before actually meeting McQueen, he received several Christmas faxes with the caption “Merry Christmas. Alexander McQueen.” This was followed by a Vogue party, where both of them looked similarly uninterested by everything that was happening around them, which led to them getting to know each other. Knight points out how incredible the speed at which McQueen’s ideas developed was, because everyone else, including him, needed time to understand them. In the winter of 2009, the presentation of Plato’s Atlantis, McQueen’s spring/summer collection, took place and in collaboration with Knight and Showstudio, it was streamed online for the first time. Since then, streaming fashion collection presentations has become an integral part of the fashion industry.
McQueen was nominated for the title of British Designer of the Year four times. He was a favourite for musicians and actors and worked with such icons as David Bowie, Bjork, and Lady Gaga. The last facts that are known to the public and that evidence his inner fight with himself, are his Tweets posted after his mother’s death. This talented British designer will be remembered for the unforgettable memories, for his revolutionary work that changed many opinions about what fashion can be, and for the sad ending of his life. Despite the fact that he left this world prematurely, committing suicide at the age of 40, his name will stay in the history of fashion forever.