I was completely stunned when I heard the news about Alexander McQueen last week. For a short time I got the same feeling in the pit in my stomach that I’d felt after hearing that Michael Jackson had died – when you know that someone with enormous talent, has gone forever. It’s very difficult to comprehend that someone who seemingly “has it all” decides to take their own life – we all dream of having talent or success like he had – it’s hard to imagine that deep unhappiness could ever go hand-in-hand with such achievements. But apparently after the death of his mother the week before his own, for McQueen there seemed very little left to live for. His McQ show had been scheduled for the afternoon of his death in New York, his Paris show was in a couple of weeks – but seemingly none of it was important anymore. It makes you truly realise if you’re not happy then absolutely nothing matters.
I’d never met McQueen or been to one of his shows, but I felt as if I might as well have done – when in the vicinity of his creations and surrounded by his clothes, you felt for a minute that you’d just gained an insight into his brilliant mind – even if only briefly. He was a true genius and one of, if not the most influential designers of his time.
Tributes flooded in from all over the world after the news broke – British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman said simply, “It is an incredible loss not only for British fashion but for fashion the world over.”
McQueen left school with one O-level in art and began his career at the age of 16 as an apprentice at Savile Row tailor Anderson & Sheppard. Clearly talented from a very young age, one of his earliest memories that he often recalled was drawing a picture of a dress on the wall of his family’s council house in London’s East End aged 3. He worked at Gieves and Hawkes, the theatre costumier Angels & Bermans and then as a pattern cutter at Romeo Gigli, in Milan. After this time he returned to London aged 21 where he was offered a place on the MA course at Central Saint Martins.
It was around then time that he met someone who would change his life (and interestingly also his name, as she encouraged him to use his middle name Alexander instead of his first name Lee). This was the late fashion editor Isabella Blow, who bought his entire collection upon his graduation from St. Martins and theirs became one of the designer’s most important relationships. She became his friend and mentor – and her own tragic end clearly had a huge effect on McQueen – as she took her own life in 2007. Apparently this was something he never got over.
McQueen worked as the head designer at Givenchy (replacing John Galliano) in 1996 but they parted ways in 2001 as the position was “constraining his creativity”. It was after this time that the Gucci group bought a 51% stake in McQueen’s business which catapulted him to the world-wide stage and he opened stores in London, New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Milan. He also launched his diffusion line McQ in 2005. He was hailed as the “enfant terrible” and his Paris catwalk shows, the highlight of Paris Fashion Week since 2000, were dramatic spectacles show-casing his creations like no-one had done before. He pushed things to the limit – forcing models to walk in 12 inch “alien” looking platforms… some so terrified to walk down the run-way in them, that they actually refused.
Personally, I’ve always been drawn to McQueen’s collections. Some of them were a bit scary looking but every spectacular piece had to be appreciated for what it was – a work of art. I only really started to come into closer contact with his clothes after they opened their store at Bicester Village (I’m their Style Consultant) – it’s probably my favourite store there. I love spending time in there as I really feel as though I’m in the presence of something very exciting – real fashion. When I’d be doing research for clients or choosing “Hot picks” for the village, I’d undoubtedly end up in the store. The dresses are often ethereal, the sharp tailoring is second to none and the accessories and shoes are simply stunning
I remember once being in Liberty with a client and buying a pair of McQueen black patent leather kitten heeled ballet pumps. Initially I thought there were silver rose buds dangling off the little ties on the front of the bow – on closer inspection, they weren’t rose buds at all… of course they were skulls! I should have known (as the skull is his most iconic trademarks)!
I also remember after waiting to see Sarah Jessica Parker at the London Premier of the Sex and the City movie, when she emerged from her blacked out car in one of his creations. I couldn’t believe how amazing she looked. Of course she wore McQueen – the film’s world premier was in London – so she had to wear the capital’s most talented designer…
I could go on and on – but if you want to see many of the iconic images from his collections click on this link from the Daily Mail which I think just about covers everything: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1250252/Alexander-McQueen-A-life-fashion.html
I was pleased to read this morning that PPR, the parent company who own the Gucci Group has announced that his brand will definitely go on… But without his genius, there are some very big shoes left to fill.