ALEXANDER MCQUEEN CLEARLY STANDS OUT AS ONE OF THE BRIGHTEST AND MOST IMAGINATIVE MINDS IN FASHION, TOWERING ABOVE THE REST WITH HIS ALMOST OTHERWORLDLY CONTROL OF MATERIALS, FORM AND GROUND BREAKING DESIGNS. LIKE MANY TRUE GENIUSES, HIS PATH WAS NOT ONE THAT WAS LAID OUT FOR HIM. INSTEAD IT WAS FOUGHT AND WON OVER STEP BY STEP WITH HIS UNIQUE VISION AND REBELLIOUS FIGHTING SPIRIT.
McQueen’s beginnings were far from glamorous. Born on March 17th 1969 as Lee Alexander McQueen in the East End of London, he was the youngest of six children to a taxi driver father and science teacher mother. His family lived on a social housing estate and life was dominated by the toughness of a working class existence. Even though McQueen had dreamed of becoming a designer from a young age, it was generally expected of him to follow his father’s professional footsteps and become a taxi driver. But as would often be the case throughout his life, his strong mind, rebellious spirit and unafraid vision persevered, and defying all family expectations McQueen dropped out of school and at the age of sixteen began an apprenticeship at the prestigious Savile Row tailor Anderson and Sheppard.
BAD BOY GONE GLORIOUS
That McQueen was different from the rest became apparent quite quickly. Not only did he exceed at the high level of tailoring that was the signature for Savile Row, McQueen also maintained his east end rough boy nature by continuously challenging the establishment and never accepting the norms of the day. He frequently recounted how once, while working on a suit for Prince Charles, he used a Biro marker to write the words ‘I am a C**t’ on the inner lining of the jacket. This macabre sense of humour and love for shocking would become a trademark.
After a stint at the theatre costumiers Angels and Bermans in London and a year working as Romeo Gigli’s design assistant in Milan, McQueen returned to London in 1992 to complete a Masters degree in fashion at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design. His degree show, entitled “Jack the Ripper stalks his Victims” showcased garments that looked splattered with blood and was presented in a theatrical setting that would become synonymous with the name McQueen. His talent was spotted by fashion icon Isabella Blow, who famously bought the whole collection and would subsequently become not only a good friend but also a mentor and supporter.
Following his degree things moved quickly. Setting up his own label in Hoxton, McQueen set about to solidify his name as enfant terrible of the fashion world. His “Bumster” trousers, which were notoriously low cut in back revealing the top of the buttock, were but one example of his provocative approach. His collections would reference the rough world of his childhood, allude to social taboos and shock with titles such as ‘McQueen's Theatre of Cruelty' or ‘Highland Rape’ while featuring fantastic and beautifully tailored garments to match. It is this darkness and macabre touch along with the impeccable tailoring as well as the unconventional ways in which he would stage his runway shows, that set his work apart and made him a true visionary. In 1996 McQueen was named British Designer of the year only to be appointed as head designer at the French label Givenchy in the same year.
At Givenchy McQueen learned to perfect his craft. Coming from a background in tailoring, the atelier at Givenchy taught him about softness and lightness, expanding his skills as a designer to include Haute Couture. Yet even tough McQueen continued grabbing headlines and increasing his fan base throughout his time at Givenchy, he was unhappy in Paris. The hierarchy of the couture world seemed fake and uninteresting to him and he found his creativity oppressed by the corporate and commercial pressures of the large fashion house. In 2001, after selling a 51% share of his own label to the Gucci Group, McQueen resigned from Givenchy returning to London to work as creative director for his own label.
Under his leadership and with his full attention, the label Alexander McQueen was reborn to glorious heights. The fashion he created was provocative, thoughtful and personal. Recognised by the world for his extraordinary talents, McQueen won numerous prestigious awards including a CBE from the Queen in 2003. Described by him as a form of personal exorcism, McQueen lived out his personal demons through his collections. Yet it seems that the darkness spilled over and into reality in the spring of 2010. Barely a week after his mother’s death on February 2nd 2010, McQueen was found hanging in his London Mayfair apartment. The slit wrists and cocktail of sleeping pills and cocaine in his blood are proof that even in this final and deadly act, McQueen followed his chosen path with full conviction. It is ironic and tragic that his final show in 2010, months before his death, was by many perceived as his best yet, reflecting perhaps that in his deepest and darkest self the strength of his personal pain and suffering was capable of producing both glorious, visionary and genius, art-like fashion as well as ultimate and deadly destruction.
Alexander McQueen defined the mastery that is classic British tailoring with his trademark style of infusing strength of structure with a fragility of form. His fashion was emotional, socially critical and personal merging artistic vision, craftsmanship and high fashion.
McQueen saw fashion as a means to exercise his demons. Having witnessed repeated of brutality towards his older sisters as a young child, McQueen thought of his clothing as “putting armor on a woman…a very psychological way of dressing”.
While working for the Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard McQueen famously tagged the inside of a suit jacket he was working on for Prince Charles with the words “I am a C*nt”.
On March 17, 1969 Lee Alexander McQueen is born as the youngest of six children on the East End of London to a taxi driver father and science teacher mother.
At 16, McQueen leaves school to start an apprenticeship on Savile Row for Anderson & Sheppard and then Gieves & Hawkes
McQueen completes a Master’s Degree at the London based Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.
McQueen’s degree show called Jack the Ripper Stalks his Victims is bought in its entirety by Isabella Blow, an influential fashion journalist who is also credited with convincing McQueen to establish his label using his second name Alexander rather than his first name Lee.
McQueen sets up his own label and features his infamous ‘Bumster’ trousers in his second collection called Highland Rape, which draws a lot of press for its use of bloodied flesh and naked flesh, cementing McQueen as the Hooligan of British Fashion.
McQueen received the first of four British Fashion Awards for British Designer of the Year. He will win this award again in 1997, 2001 and 2003
McQueen designs the Union Jack coat worn by David Bowie on the cover of his 1997 album “Earthling”
McQueen leaves Givenchy citing constraints on his creativity through the commercial pressures of a larger fashion house, to become the creative director for his own label in 2001.
McQueen’s first collection back at the helm of his own label goes down in history. One way mirrors, an oversized naked woman covered in a live moths and a gas mask are just some of the stand out features of this incredible spring/summer 2001 show entitled VOSS
McQueen wins designer of the year for a fourth time and is honoured by the Queen’s CBE (Commander of the British Empire) award for exceptional talent.
McQueen’s long time mentor, supporter and fashion icon Isabella Blow commits suicide. His next show is dedicated to her.
On February 11th 2010 Nine days after McQueen’s mother dies of cancer and one day before her funeral, McQueen is found hanged at his Mayfair flat in London.
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