With Alexander McQueen we dedicate, for the first time, an article to a designer.
Reading the biography of this visionary artist, who died at the age of 40 on 11 February 2010, we will discover an extraordinary life, a story “different” from all the others, one that we’d like to tell.
The first years
Lee Alexander McQueen (his full name) was born in Lewisham, London, on March 17, 1969. His father Ronald was a taxi driver and his mother Joyce was a social studies teacher and genealogist. Alexander was the youngest of six brothers.
The talent of the young designer soon revealed itself. In fact, at the age of 16, McQueen left school and went to work at Anderson & Sheppard, in the famous Savile Row. You should know that Savile Row is a street in London where some of the most important and well-known tailoring workshops in the world are based, including Anderson & Sheppard.
Here, the young Alexander McQueen tailored suits for Mikhail Gorbachev and Prince Charles, unaware that his life would have inextricably linked him to the English monarchy (read on to find out). From his apprenticeship, McQueen learned six methods of pattern cutting and developed his signature “razor blade” tailoring.
In addition, after working for another tailor’s shop and as a theater costume designer, McQueen collaborated with Japanese designer Koji Tatsuno in London and then with Romeo Gigli in Italy.
Alexander McQueen conquering London
In 1990 McQueen returned to London and enrolled at the Central Saint Martins fashion college, where he studied until 1992. Out of curiosity, the college is the most prestigious in the country and recognized around the world and counts, among its alumni, not only the designers Stella McCartney (daughter of Paul) and John Galliano, but also musicians Joe Strummer and PJ Harvey and actor Pierce Brosnan.
For his final thesis, McQueen put on a show so incredible that it caught the attention of Isabella Blow, a renowned London designer. Blow bought McQueen’s entire first collection, which doesn’t often happen to a recent high school graduate.
At the end of his studies, in 1992, McQueen started working on his own, debuting with a pair of trousers that redefined the traditional cut of the garment. These pants were called “bumster” because they were cut so low as to reveal the lower back (the builder’s bum!).
This garment led McQueen to instant media recognition. After the launch of his first collection, the designer moved to Hoxton where he launched his second and third collections, “McQueen’s Theater of Cruelty” and “The Birds” respectively.
Success and influential collaborations
In 1996 Alexander McQueen was named British Designer of the Year and later that year he was hired as Givenchy‘s chief designer. His first collection for the brand was not very successful. However, there were important collaborations with the music world that had a different fate.
McQueen worked on the cover of Icelandic singer Bjork‘s Homogenic album and even directed one of the songs on the Alarm Call album. In addition, he designed the wardrobes for singer David Bowie‘s 1996-97 tour. The coat Bowie wore on the cover of his Earthling album was also designed by McQueen. A masterpiece.
Speaking of masterpieces, as reported in Bowie’s biography, let’s not forget the interview that Dazed and Confused magazine authorized Bowie to do with McQueen. We report a few lines, to make you understand the tone between the two geniuses.
Bowie: Looking at your work I would say that sexuality plays an important role in your design.
McQueen: Well, I think it’s the worst of mental attitudes. Sexuality confines you to a very small space, and still, trying to define your sexuality is a frightening process. Finding out which side you lean on, what offends you in others, or who ultimately accepts you when you are looking for love. You have to walk all these corridors, and it can turn out to be really crazy at times.
In addition to Bowie and Bjork, McQueen had the opportunity to dress numerous music icons: Madonna, Courtney Love, Tori Amos and even Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones.
A style that caused a scandal
Already in 1995, from one of his first collections, called “Highland Rape“, it was understood that the British designer had a controversial personality, which earned him the nickname of “English fashion hooligan“. T
his show sparked accusations of misogyny for the performance of blood-smeared and seemingly brutalized models wearing plaid-patterned gowns with ripped bodices and torn lace.
A few years later, in 1998, his fall collection caused quite a bit of controversy as McQueen had the amputated model Aimee Mullins walking on finely carved wooden legs.
His most famous show was that of the Spring / Summer 2001 “VOSS” collection in which a nude model sitting on a chaise longue wore a gas mask inside a huge glass box containing moths. At the beginning of the show, the walls fell and smashed to the ground, taking all spectators by surprise.
It was evident that McQueen had a penchant for drama, orchestrating provocative fashion shows that shocked audiences. His daring designs attracted attention for their darkly romantic qualities and violent and goth elements.
The last years
In 2000 McQueen sold a controlling stake in his brand to Gucci Group, while retaining creative control.
In the same year McQueen married George Forsyth, a documentary director, in Ibiza. But the union was never made official as same-sex marriage was illegal in Spain at the time. They separated after a year and remained good friends.
The following year the designer began to diversify his own brand including perfumes, then a menswear collection (for which the British Fashion Council named him British Menswear Designer of the Year); and McQ, a prêt-à-porter line with a more accessible price.
In 2003 he was even appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire, a great honor offered by the English monarchy.
On February 11, 2010, Alexander McQueen was found hanged at home by his housekeeper and pronounced dead by doctors who arrived shortly after. Police records suggested a drug overdose and cuts to the wrists with a ceremonial dagger. Grandiose and theatrical until the end of his days.
The legacy of Alexander McQueen
Alexander McQueen’s funeral took place on February 25, 2010, at St. Paul’s Church, west London, and his ashes were scattered across the Isle of Skye.
McQueen left £ 50,000 for his pet dogs and £ 100,000 each for four charities, including “Battersea Dogs and Cats Home” in South London and “Blue Cross Animal Welfare Charity” in Burford, Oxfordshire.
Pop musician Lady Gaga dedicated a song to him called “Fashion of His Love“, contained in the special edition of her album “Born This Way“. Lady Gaga has always been a huge fan of the British designer’s work, and she had worn it several times. Let’s not forget the iconic Armadillo shoes in the Bad Romance video.
A posthumous exhibition of McQueen’s work titled “Savage Beauty” was hosted at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2011. The exhibition broke the attendance record for fashion shows and became one of the most visited exhibitions in the museum.
Recently, in 2018, McQueen was released, a documentary on the life and career of this visionary artist.
After his death, the creative director of the fashion house became Sarah Burton, former assistant to McQueen since 1996. Through Burton, the partnership between McQueen and the British monarchy was strengthened even after the designer’s death.
In fact, Kate Middleton over the years has very often worn models of the McQueen brand. First of all on her wedding day and then for very important appointments: from the wedding of her sister Pippa to that of Harry and Meghan, passing through the baptisms of her three children.
There is nothing more to add. Alexander McQueen cannot be forgotten. Long live McQueen.