“Give me time and I’ll give you a revolution.”
Genius, talent, a prodigy; just a handful of words I could use to describe the haute couture wizard that was, Alexander McQueen. For a life which ended far too young, people need to be made aware of the marker McQueen set down for fashion, art and life.
A taxi driver for a father and a mother who taught social sciences; it’s more than fair to say McQueen didn’t develop in the most bourgeois environment. Council housing in Lewisham, however nice it may be, doesn’t exactly scream ‘FASHION’S NEW BEST THING’. Yet, this is where Lee Alexander McQueen discovered his natural craft. I prefer to call McQueen’s designs art, rather than fashion. Anybody ordinary can create a garment, it’s easy. McQueen, however, was not ordinary. He was exceptionally extraordinary in fact. His designs had meaning, thought and intellect behind them, instead of just looking ‘pretty’, which most of the time, they did not.
Subsequent to dropping out of high school at the fragile age of sixteen, McQueen applied for a job at renowned tailors on the acclaimed street, Savile Row, where he learned the beautiful mastery of tailoring. With a passion to further his clothes-making desire, McQueen moved on from his tailoring placement and began working with theatrical costume designers, Angels and Bermans. The theatre which was encased within the garments he was working with inspired McQueen to think up dramatic and daring creations which soon came to light later on in his career. McQueen soon rocked up at Central St Martins, one of the most prestigious fashion institutions in London, without any qualifications, and was fast scooped up by influential stylist (best-known for her outlandish hat wearing), Isabella Blow. Blow bought the entirety of McQueen’s ’92 graduation collection and soon enough they became exceptional friends who saw each other more as family than anything else. Blow talks of McQueen, “He’s my child – I adore him”. Together, McQueen and Blow were unstoppable and, according to many friends and family, inseparable.
From McQueen’s graduation show, Jack The Ripper Stalks His Victims to his last titled spectacle before his death, Pomp and Circumstance, all performances were as shocking and iconic as the next. Highland Rape is possibly McQueen’s best known fashion display. Inspired by the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of British forces in the Scottish highlands within the 18th and 19th centuries, McQueen evoked his ancestral pride with this diverse collection. Beautifully cut tartan suits which revealed women in a way no designer had approached before and torn lace with unfinished hems, this was a concept entirely new to high-end fashion. With this collection, McQueen succeeded his dream of putting forth strong statements about femininity enraptured in fashion. The early appearance of the Bumster within Highland Rape produced a particularly strong statement which proliferated house codes. Who doesn’t love an unorthodox Scottish-inspired catwalk, eh?
Highland Rape and many others of McQueen’s catwalk shows emitted such attitude which made them absolutely archetypal within haute couture form. However, there is one show which, if you know your stuff, you’ll never forget. No.13: Alexander McQueen’s spring/summer 1999 show was a parade like no other. The catwalk held women, such as Paralympic athletes, sporting wooden, prosthetic limbs. They were dressed in hard, leather bodices with high necks which restricted the models in such a way that the audience were disturbed. However, these bound and restrained Paralympians would leave the audience feeling rather introspective after what they were about to witness. The finale of No.13 was un-heard of (even for McQueen). This was the most striking finish of his shows to date, and one which will forever live on. A limp, skeletal looking model stood loosely hunched on a rotating plinth in the centre of the show, between two industrial robots which appeared to be attempting to interact with her slow, gentle movements. The flailing of the robots grew more intense, juxtaposing themselves with the beautiful ballerina dressed in a white trapeze dress. The audience were astounded with the violence the robots evoked as they sprayed harsh hues of black and yellow in psychotic lines all about the revolving ballet dancer. Not only did this arresting performance startle and perturb the audience, it provoked comment upon the interaction between man and machine as we ascended into the 21st century. Iconic, is all that can be said for McQ’s shows.
McQueen had it all. A beautiful and natural talent for designing and performing, a scintillating career which he had an avid passion for, a loving family and partner, and his dogs. But even those living the dream can have all kinds of things going on behind the scenes. In 2007, the shadow of death started to cast itself upon McQueen’s life after the suicide of friend and soulmate, Isabella Blow. McQueen devoted his 2008 spring/summer collection to Blow with which he contributed “her death was the most valuable thing I learnt in fashion”. This collection was quite different from the distressing scenes and garments of others. It exuded a beautiful delicacy which is hard to come by with McQueen’s designs. Heavily circulating around brilliant colour and fragile butterflies, this collection encapsulated the vulnerability and sentimentality McQueen felt at the time of Blow’s departure, and was a gracefully affectionate send off. If the parting of a dear confidante doesn’t tarnish your sparkle enough, a mere two years later, McQueen’s mother, Joyce, died after a long battle with cancer. McQueen and his mother had a bond you don’t see many influential designers admitting to nowadays. After this bond was destroyed by disease, McQueen became heavily depressed and was said to be taking a lot of drugs. Nine days on from Joyce McQueen’s death, Alexander McQueen was found by his housekeeper hanging within his wardrobe by ‘his favourite brown belt’, on February 11th, 2010. All that was found of McQueen that morning was a note which read: “Please look after my dogs”.
Alexander McQueen’s exceptional rise from a lower-class high school dropout to internationally notorious designer and artist is phenomenal. His dangerous styles and reckless shows inspired, amazed and some-what troubled the world of fashion, and his legacy will forever live on. Sarah Burton took over the Alexander McQueen brand, and their shows are still wonderfully perturbing. However, it will never quite be the same without McQ. As for his dogs, McQueen out aside £50,000 of his wealth for them so that they could live on the lap of luxury until they too joined McQueen in his escape. Even after he’s gone, he’s still pretty remarkable and that can’t be said for many people. Long live McQueen!