On 17 March, City Connect pays tribute to the birth date of the late fashion designer Alexander McQueen, CBE who sadly committed suicide on 11 February 2010. Alexander McQueen was a British fashion designer and couturier best known for his in-depth knowledge of bespoke British tailoring, his tendency to juxtapose strength with fragility in his collections, as well as the emotional power and raw energy of his provocative fashion shows.
Alexander McQueen left school at 16 with one O-level in art, going on to serve an apprenticeship with Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard, before joining Gieves & Hawkes and, later, the theatrical costumiers Angels and Bermans. The skills he learned as an apprentice on Savile Row helped earn him a reputation in the fashion world as an expert in creating an impeccably tailored look.
McQueen graduated with a Masters in fashion design from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. His entire graduation collection was bought by influential fashion stylist Isabella Blow, who was said to have persuaded McQueen to become known as Alexander (his middle name) when he subsequently launched his fashion career.
Icelandic singer Björk sought McQueen’s work for the cover of her album Homogenic in 1997 and she also persuaded McQueen to direct the music video for her song “Alarm Call” from the same album.
Alexander McQueen’s early catwalk collections developed his reputation for controversy and shock tactics (earning the title “l’enfant terrible” and “the hooligan of English fashion”), with trousers aptly named “bumsters” and a collection titled “Highland Rape”. McQueen was also known for his lavish, unconventional catwalk shows which included a recreation of a shipwreck and a human chess game.
McQueen’s “bumsters” spawned a trend in low rise jeans and was what some said defined McQueen. The designer also became known for using skulls in his designs. A scarf bearing the motif became a celebrity must-have and was copied around the world.
Alexander McQueen has been credited with bringing drama and extravagance to the catwalk. He used new technology and innovation to add a different twist to his shows and often shocked and surprised audiences. The silhouettes that he created have been credited for adding a sense of fantasy and rebellion to fashion. McQueen became one of the first designers to use Indian models in London.
The president of LVMH, Bernard Arnault, caused a stir when he appointed McQueen head designer at Givenchy in 1996, succeeding John Galliano. Upon arrival at Givenchy, McQueen insulted the founder by calling him “irrelevant”. His first couture collection with Givenchy was unsuccessful. Alexander McQueen toned down his designs at Givenchy, but continued to indulge his rebellious streak, causing controversy in autumn 1998 with a show which included spraying paint over white cotton dresses and double amputee model Aimee Mullins striding down the catwalk on intricately carved wooden legs. McQueen stayed with Givenchy until March 2001, when the contract he said was “constraining his creativity” ended.
Some of Alexander McQueen’s accomplishments included being one of the youngest designers to achieve the title “British Designer of the Year”, which he won four times (1996, 1997, 2001 and 2003); he was also awarded the CBE and named International Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers in 2003.
December 2000 saw a new partnership for McQueen, with the Gucci Group’s acquiring 51% of his company and McQueen’s serving as Creative Director. Plans for expansion included the opening of stores in London, Milan and New York, and the launch of two perfumes. In 2005, McQueen collaborated with Puma to create a special line of trainers for them. In 2006 he launched McQ, a younger, more renegade lower priced line for men and women.
McQueen became the first designer to participate in MAC’s promotion of cosmetic releases created by fashion designers. The collection, McQueen, was released on 11 October 2007 and was inspired by the 1963 Elizabeth Taylor movie Cleopatra. Models had intense blue, green, and teal eye make-up with strong black liner extended Egyptian-style.
By the end of 2007, Alexander McQueen had boutiques in London, New York, Los Angeles, Milan and Las Vegas. Celebrity patrons, including Nicole Kidman, Penélope Cruz, Sarah Jessica Parker and Rihanna, Björk and Lady Gaga have often incorporated Alexander McQueen pieces in their music videos. By wearing his designs, celebrities such as these have further increased the notability of the McQueen brand.
McQueen’s death was announced on the afternoon of 11 February 2010. In the morning, his housekeeper found him hanging at his home in London. Paramedics were called and they pronounced him dead at the scene.
McQueen’s funeral took place on 25 February 2010 at St. Paul’s Church in Knightsbridge, London. His ashes were later scattered on the Isle of Skye.
His memorial was held at Saint Paul’s Cathedral on 20 September 2010. It was attended by Björk, Kate Moss, Sarah Jessica Parker, Naomi Campbell, Stella McCartney and Anna Wintour amongst 2,500 other invited guests. On 18 February 2010, Robert Polet, the president and chief executive of the Gucci Group, announced that the Alexander McQueen business would carry on without its founder and creative director.
McQueen had reserved £50,000 of his wealth for his pet dogs so they could live in the lap of luxury for the rest of their lives. He also bequeathed £100,000 to Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in South London in addition to leaving similar sums for three other charities.
After his death, many tributes were paid by the likes of Lady Gaga, Björk, Kanye West, Courtney Love, and Katy Perry. The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City hosted a posthumous exhibition of McQueen’s work in 2011 titled Savage Beauty. Despite being open for only three months, it was one of the most popular exhibitions in the museum’s history.
The Alexander McQueen brand continues under Gucci ownership with his long-term assistant Sarah Burton as the creative director.
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