What, the name Alexander McQueen isn’t familiar to you? He was the designer who made the plumber’s crack fashionable with his perilously low-cut jeans, a move which consequently spawned the resulting term, “muffin top”. Is the memory creeping back now? Yeah, it was him. Got a skull-imprinted clutch handbag or scarf lying around in your not-yet-Konmari’d-but-I’m-gonna-do-it-I-swear closet? McQueen. Or that timeless pencil skirt and gorgeous prints that seem to flawlessly work forever? That was Alexander McQueen as well.
The creator of these ideas and so much more, Lee Alexander McQueen, was born in 1969 in London to Scottish taxi driver Ronald and social science teacher Joyce. He grew up the youngest of six kids, attending Rokeby School til age 16, earning an O-level in art ( GED equivalent), then completed a course in tailoring at Newham College, serving an apprenticeship with Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard before joining Gieves & Hawkes, then theatrical costumers Angels and Bermans. Word was already getting out about McQueen’s talent for creating an impeccably tailored look during his apprenticeship. He then attended the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and earned his Masters in Fashion in 1992. Influential fashion stylist Isabella Blow caught on at that point. She purchased his entire graduation collection and is said to be the one who convinced McQueen to go by his middle name. Ms. Blow was a key figure and somewhat of a mentor in McQueen’s life, helping him launch his fashion career into the stratosphere, where he enjoyed a stop at Givenchy. (Wikipedia)
McQueen saw early on that shock tactics and controversy had a place on the runway, and is credited with bringing theatrical drama to the catwalk. Birdcages, butterflies, feathered wings, towering heels and even a catwalk filled with water all had a place in his shows, says BBC News Magazine. McQueen liked to shock and surprise people at his catwalk shows and wasn’t one who liked to conform to fashion industry norms. In 1998 he caused controversy once again by featuring double amputee Aimee Mullins, a former Paralympian, as a catwalk model in a pair of hand-carved wooden prosthetic legs.
“You always expected the unexpected with Alexander McQueen,” said Helen Boyle, a fashion stylist and presenter at that now famous show. “Everyone was waiting to see who was on the catwalk, and what they were wearing. By putting disabled people on he was taking people out of their comfort zones, making people think, making people sit up in their chairs.”
“His shows were often very theatrical… I seem to remember one show where there were antlers,” said designer Sir Paul Smith.
“He didn’t just create fashion, he created spectacles,” said fashion designer Scott Henshall. “He had Sophie Dahl encased with butterflies. He had models sprayed with paint to enter his finale catwalk shows and he really elevated fashion to what it should be.” (BBC News Magazine). Tragically, the show was about to end.
At the pinnacle of his career, McQueen slipped into a bout of depression and drugs, and at age 40 took his life by hanging himself. His body was discovered by his housekeeper on February 11, 2010. His mother had died the day before.
The fashion world was devastated. Lady Gaga was a fan and friend, famously wearing a pair of McQueen’s Armadillo Shoes for her “Bad Romance” video. The shoes, which have four-inch heels and resemble a giant lobster claw, were featured in his last show ever. Ms. Gaga shared about the shoes and McQueen himself in 2015, “I am convinced that I’m loved from somewhere far beyond the eternal body and mind, outside of all the chaos. He wanted me to have them. They made their way back to me. I am here today not just because of my talent, but because he believed in me. My weird brand of art pop manic expression of my emotions was the part of me he knew he taught me.” She dedicated the song “Fashion of His Love” to him on a special edition of her third album, Born This Way. Watch one of the most fantastical fashion documentaries we’ve ever seen, MCQUEEN, you’ll be glad you did.
A true artist, Lee Alexander McQueen made his mark and forged new paths. He will forever be remembered.
Rest In Peace