By Bella Watson
A Brief History Lee Alexander McQueen was born in London on March 17, 1969. His father was a taxi driver and he was the youngest of six children. He left school at the age of 16 and took an apprenticeship at the traditional Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard. This experience allowed him to sharpen his technical skills and tailoring, which he would later become famous for. McQueen then progressed to Gieves & Hawkes, a bespoke gentleman’s tailor also on Savile Row. There, McQueen further honed his tailoring skills. He then moved on to theatrical costumiers Angels and Bermans where he mastered six methods of pattern cutting from the melodramatic 16th Century to the razor sharp tailoring that is now a McQueen signature. At age 20, McQueen was hired by designer Koji Tatsuno, who also had roots in British tailoring. A year later, he traveled to Milan where he became Romeo Gigli’s design assistant. Upon returning from Italy, McQueen completed a Master’s Degree in Fashion Design at the prestigious Central Saint Martin’s College. In 1992, Alexander McQueen showed his master’sthesis collection: “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims”. Isabella Blow, editor of British Vogue, was particularly impressed and took McQueen under her wing. This ultimately launched his very successful career.
McQueen’s Years in Fashion
1992: McQueen graduates from Central Saint Martin’s College with a Master’s in Fashion Design. He meets Isabella Blow, editor of British Vogue, who bought his entire collection and got him started in a tiny studio off Hoxton Square.
1993: McQueen presents his first collection entitled “Taxi Driver” on a clothes rack at the Ritz. His now famous “Bumster” pants are introduced for the first time. They were later credited for the trend in low-rise jeans. McQueen shows a collection called “Nihilism” in October.
1994: McQueen meets stylist Katy England (who becomes one of his closest collaborators and later the creative director of the label). In March, McQueen shows his “Banshee” collection. In April, McQueen shows a film featuring transvestites to introduce the label Stateside. McQueen describes his look as “classic tailoring with a hint of perversity”. He presents his “The Birds” collection in October.
1995: In March, McQueen presents his breakthrough collection “Highland Rape”. His signature red-and-black tartan, shot through with yellow, appears for the first time. The collection is controversial and McQueen is accused of being misogynistic, but he states that he aims to empower women, saying “I want people to be afraid of the women I dress”. The show solidifies McQueen’s bad-boy reputation. In October, “The Hunger” collection is presented and marks the first appearance of men’s designs,
including taffeta suits. This show is also the first done for McQueen by producer Sam Gainsbury, who would go on to collaborate many more times.
1996: Alexander McQueen is named British Designer of the Year by the British Fashion Council for the first time. Sarah Burton, a student at Central Saint Martin’s like McQueen once was, began interning at his studio. McQueen’s first small collection of menswear launches. In March, McQueen’s “Dante” collection is shown in the Baroque Christ Church, Spitalfields. McQueen says that “[he thinks] religion has caused every war in the world, which is why [he] showed in a church”. In April, the New York version of the show is held in a former synagogue. In the fall, Japanese corporation Onward Kashiyama comes on as a backer, with subsidiary Gibo producing the line. In September, specially designed rooms by McQueen and other designers are featured at the first Biennale di Firenze in Florence, Italy. In October, McQueen joins Givenchy as Chief Designer. He gains many new haute-couture techniques during his time with Givenchy.
1997: American Express begins sponsoring McQueen’s shows, and he is able to move into a bigger space on Amwell Street. McQueen wins the BFC Designer of the Year award for the second time, this year sharing the honor with Dior designer John Galliano.
1999: Vogue writer Katherine Betts dubs McQueen and follow designers Hussein Chalayan, Yohji Yamamoto, and Issey Miyake the “Extreme Team”. In December, McQueen is named VH1/Vogue Avant-Garde Designer of the Year. The magazine says that McQueen has a “brilliantly anarchic take on the classics”.
2000: Sarah Burton is named head of womenswear. The Gucci Group (owned by PPR) acquires a 51% stake in the label. McQueen is named creative director and is given full artistic control.
2001: McQueen wins the BFC Designer of the Year award for the third time; it is presented to him by Prince Charles. In March, McQueen presents his final show for Givenchy. In June, Gucci Group’s YSL Beauté gets a ten-year license to create and distribute fragrances and cosmetics under the McQueen name. In October, McQueen presents his “Dance of the Twisted Bull” collection and begins showing in Paris alongside the major houses. In November, Susan Whiteley is named CEO and McQueen’s Tokyo boutique opens.
2002: McQueen’s first ad campaign is launched for fall. His New York flagship opens in the Meatpacking District. Designed by architect William Russell, the store is very unique. Bespoke menswear is also launched in collaboration with Savile Row tailor H. Huntsman & Sons; David Bowie is seen wearing McQueen’s suits shortly after. In December, McQueen is named VH1/Vogue Revolutionary Designer of the Year. Celebrities such as Madonna, Whitney Houston, Jerry Hall, and Julianne Moore are seen wearing McQueen’s designs and he says that it is important for him to “dress the women whom [he] admire[s]”.
2003: McQueen is named BFC Designer of the Year for the fourth time. In March, Kingdom, the house’s first fragrance, is released. McQueen talks with Vogue writer Plum Skyes about the scent. McQueen’s London flagship opens on Old Bond Street.
Another store opens later in Milan. In June, McQueen receives the CFDA’s International Award. He is also named Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II, which he says is a “great privilege to receive this honour”. In October, it is reported by Gucci Group that McQueen profits have doubled over the past year.
2004: In April, McQueen launches an eyewear line with Safilo Group. In September, McQueen is named GQ Menswear Designer of the Year after he launches a major menswear line. In November, McQueen also receives the BFC Menswear Designer of the Year award.
2005: In June, McQueen’s first full handbag collection is launched with his new signature Novak style, which is named after actress Kim Novak. McQueen says that “there is a kind of strength and a bit of aggression in it; it’s almost like a cage”. In July, Vogue writer and an old friend of McQueen’s Plum Skyes wears a corseted white silkpaper taffeta sheath with a serpentine train at her wedding. In September, McQueen launches a men’s and women’s footwear line for Puma. The faceted Art Nouveau-style glass flacon is admired. In October, the My Queen fragrance is introduced.
2006: In March, the “Widows of Culloden” collection is debuted, with a hologram of McQueen’s friend Kate Moss closing the show. In May, McQueen is highlighted in a Vogue spotlight on the best of British fashion. At the Met Costume Institute exhibit “AngloMania”, both McQueen and Sarah Jessica Parker are seen wearing his
signature tartan. In June, McQueen’s secondary line, McQ, reaches stores. McQueen says that “the main line is more conceptual, this is more cinematic”.
2007: In March, McQueen shows a collection called “In Memory of Elizabeth Howe, Salem 1692”, which is a tribute to his ancestor who had been condemned as a Salem witch. McQueen’s longtime mentor and muse, Isabella Blow, commits suicide in May. In October, Alexander McQueen for MAC hits stores. McQueen also dedicates his spring show, “La Dame Bleue”, to Isabella Blow.
2008: McQueen moves his business into a bigger space on Clerkenwell Road in London. The Los Angeles flagship opens in April. In September, Vogue features McQueen’s fall collection and talks about the 16th century elm that inspired it. In October, McQueen’s limited-edition bottle design for Chivas Regal eighteen-year-old scotch is released.
2009: In January, Alexander McQueen Puma, which is a full range of sportswear and accessories, is debuted in Milan along with the short film Ghost by McQueen and Saam Farahmand. In March, the McQ Alexander McQueen for Target collection reaches stores. In June, McQueen released limited-edition scarves in support of the environmental film Home and GoodPlanet. In October, “Pluto’s Atlantis” becomes the brand’s first live-streamed runway show. Lady Gaga wears McQueen in her music video for Bad Romance.
2010: In January, McQueen’s E-commerce is launched in the U.K. In February, McQueen tells Love magazine that he wants the brand to live on after he is dead.
Shortly after, his mother, Joyce passes away. A week later, on February 11, 2010, McQueen is found dead at his London home at the age of 40. It is ruled a suicide. In March, Sarah Burton puts final touches on McQueen’s “Angels & Demons” collection. She is named the creative director in May. In June, the late McQueen is honored with a CFDA Board of Directors’ Special Tribute Award. One of his final projects, a men’s underwear and sleepwear line, is launched. Pina Ferlisi is named creative director of the McQ line, which Burton now oversees. In July, Vogue’s “Noble Farewell” praises McQueen’s final collection. In October, Burton makes her ready-to-wear debut to high praise. In December, the late McQueen is honored by the BFC for Outstanding Achievement in Fashion Design.
2011: In January, First Lady Michelle Obama wears Burton’s red-and-black ball gown to a state dinner. Model Lindsey Wixson is named the brand’s face. Throughout the year, several magazines dedicate issues to the late McQueen. In April, Burton is announced as the designer of Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. At the Met Costume Institute’s annual gala in May, the late McQueen is honored through “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty”. A grand total of 661,509 people visit the show before it closes in August. In an issue of Vogue, Burton shares memories about her late mentor. Burton is also the It Girl of that month. In the fall, McQueen’s first Chinese store opens in Beijing.
McQueen’s Customers As McQueen and his designs became increasingly popular, they started appearing on a number of celebrities. Stars such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Sandra Bullock, Katie Holmes, Kate Moss, Ashlee Simpson, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Anna Paquin, and many others. Perhaps the most iconic celebrity to don McQueen’s designs is Lady Gaga. In fact, Lady Gaga has been named the person who really put McQueen on the map to the general public. Not everybody pays attention to the world of high fashion, but just about everyone knows who Lady Gaga is. She famously wore several Alexander McQueen designs in her music video for Bad Romance in 2009. Most noteworthy were McQueen’s 12-inch high “Alien” shoes. Lady Gaga has been seen wearing McQueen’s designs from the red carpet to paparazzi shots to magazine shoots. She even wears McQueen on the cover for her single “Dance in the Dark”. Sarah Jessica Parker was a longtime friend of McQueen’s as well as a fan of his designs. They attended a gala at the MET in New York together in May 2006 wearing matching designs: McQueen wore a kilt and Parker wore a matching dress. Parker has also been seen wearing McQueen’s designs on several other red carpet occasions, including the premiere and DVD release of her movie Sex in the City. McQueen’s target market is mostly celebrities and wealthy socialites, along with anyone else rich enough to afford his high-priced designs. Women of all ages with this level of income and/or money are drawn to McQueen’s designs, but most specifically women in their
late twenties and thirties. Prices for the Alexander McQueen Ready To Wear start typically start upwards of $700 and can go as high as about $10,000. Shoes, bags, and accessories are usually in this price range as well. One of the lower prices I’ve noticed while looking at his current collection on the Alexander McQueen website is his classic Skull Scarf, which is priced at $295. I have yet to find anything less expensive than that. Dresses worn by celebrities, however, are usually somewhere in the five-figure price range. The prices for those elaborate gowns are not always released, as the number of people who can afford them is quite small. There is no limit to the price tag when apparel is designed for clients with extremely large amounts of money, and one of Lady Gaga’s McQueen dresses is rumored to be between $15,000 and $20,000. Alexander McQueen’s McQ line is more affordable, but most items are still fairly pricey for the average person. I would say that the line appeals to a similar demographic as the original Alexander McQueen line, only this time to people who have decent amounts of money, but not quite enough to be able to purchase from McQueen’s original line. Both of McQueen’s lines cater to similar size ranges: the Alexander McQueen line carrying sizes of XS-XL as well as 2, 4, 6, and 8. The McQ line carries sizes of XXS-XL as well as 2, 4, 6, and 8 too. While McQueen’s designs may come off as too crazy and extreme to some, they are pieces of art to others. McQueen has previously stated that he wants people to “be afraid of” the women he dresses. This can definitely be seen through many of the designs he has sent down the runway. I think it takes a certain kind of woman to pull off a brilliantly creative McQueen design. They need to have the right mindset to make the design come to life on their body. Because of the daringness of certain designs, I think the women who love McQueen are
tough and like to shock and awe people. They’re trendsetters and they don’t want to blend in with everyone else – they want to stand out.
McQueen’s Materials While McQueen used a number of different and unique fibers, fabrics, and items to create his designs, tartan is by far his most recognizable. Dictionary.com defines tartan as “a woolen or worsted cloth woven with stripes of different colors and widths crossing at right angles”. McQueen’s most famous tartan is red, black, and yellow. This tartan, which McQueen designed himself, appears in several of his collections. McQueen’s use of this tartan is significant because of the many cultural and historical associations the textile carries. McQueen’s tartan, which is a visual signifier of clanship throughout Scottish history, is a reference to his own Scottish heritage as well as Scotland’s turbulent political history. McQueen is also famous for incorporating unusual elements into his designs. He is known to have used glass, leather, feathers, boning, embroidery, lace, and metalworking in some of his designs. The end result is always gorgeous and unique.
Although he is no longer with us, Alexander McQueen’s line lives on through Sarah Burton. She focuses mainly on the Alexander McQueen Ready To Wear collections. The merchandise can be found in a variety of places, including flagships and high-end department stores such as Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York, and Bloomingdale’s. Both the Alexander McQueen line and the McQ line can be viewed at www.alexandermcqueen.com and online purchases can be made from there. One of McQueen’s biggest influences on the fashion industry was his spectacular runway shows. McQueen got everyone to expect the unexpected, and influenced how other designers presented their collections. McQueen’s wow factor made others want to step up their game on the runway. Other influences of McQueen can be seen in the surge in popularity of skulls, which are known as other one of his signatures, after he started using them. McQueen’s influences can even be seen in some of Dolce & Gabbana’s designs as well as in Avril Lavigne’s store-band Abbey Dawn. There was historical importance in McQueen’s designs because he managed to mix history into contemporary garments. A lot of his collections were influenced by history and political issues, as seen in his March 1995 collection “Highland Rape”. McQueen intended the term “rape” to signify the 19th century “rape” of the Scottish Highlands by profit-driven English landlords. Another collection was dedicated to and inspired by the fact that one of McQueen’s ancestors had been condemned as a witch in Salem in 1692. I think that McQueen goes down in history as such a great designer because, in reality, he wasn’t around in the industry as long as other designers such as Christian Dior were, but in the short amount of
time he was around, he managed to blow everybody away. McQueen shocked and amazed people with his unusually unique designs, and his legacy will live on for a long time to come.
Further Reading From Women’s Wear Daily, December 13, 2010:
Newsmakers: Alexander McQueen By SAMANTHA CONTI
Lee Alexander McQueen’s suicide in February instantly made headlines around the world and deeply wounded an industry that prized his talents as a creative trailblazer and his abiding irreverence in a business that had become decidedly corporate since the designer began his career in London’s East End in the early Nineties. McQueen had earned the admiration and respect of his peers, like John Galliano, who called him “daring, original, exciting,” and Jean Paul Gaultier, who said he was “a great talent.” Stella McCartney was among those who remembered him as “a fashion genius…a mate and a peer, and full of energy,” while Donatella Versace called him a “true icon.” “The world has lost a very talented young man whom I have always respected for his outstanding genius,” said Giorgio Armani. At his memorial service at St. Paul’s in September, Suzy Menkes, fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, told the crowd of 1,200 that gathered under the great dome of
the London landmark that while McQueen’s shows may have been populated with bones and skulls, caged ravens or wolves straining on leashes, “His imagination and showmanship never drowned out his fabulous tailoring. He was an artist who just happened to work with clothing.” Those who worked alongside McQueen — who was found hanged inside the wardrobe of his London home on Feb. 11, the day his mother Joyce’s funeral was set to take place — concurred. Shortly after his death, Camilla Nickerson, the fashion stylist, remembered the highly instinctive way in which McQueen would work. “The staggering thing about him was that he literally cut fabric off the bolt, folded it very perfectly on the floor and asked for the scissors from his very attentive assistant. He would then think about it and attack the piece of fabric and hold it to the girl, and there was the dress or the jacket in place. I hadn’t ever watched anyone work so fluently and so directly.” Nickerson recalled their first meeting, when McQueen arrived in New York, and with him, brought “these carpets of ideas that he just laid out on my floor, and he spoke for two hours without drawing breath. He just floored you every time.” For McQueen, the extraordinary was simply business as usual. “Fashion should be a form of escapism, and not a form of imprisonment,” he said during an interview with WWD last year. “I wasn’t born to give you a twin set and pearls.” Poignantly, a few months before his death, McQueen was looking forward to the seemingly endless possibilities the Internet could offer the fashion industry. In an interview in September 2009, shortly before streaming his Paris runway show live for the first time, McQueen talked about someday beaming his shows around the world via holograms. “This is the birth of a new dawn in fashion,” McQueen said. “There is no way back for me now. I am going to take you on journeys you’ve never dreamed were possible.”
I think that this article is relevant because it is a short but sweet tribute to Alexander McQueen and his incredible talent. Several different designers discuss McQueen’s importance in the world of fashion, showing just how influential and revolutionary he was. McQueen is referred to as a “great talent”, a “fashion genius”, and a “true icon”. From the research I have done, these descriptions fit Alexander McQueen perfectly.
Conclusion The thing that captured my attention the most about Alexander McQueen is a tie between his unbelievable, breathtaking designs and his creative runway shows. Reading about the runway shows can almost make you feel as though you are there because of the vivid descriptions given by writers who covered McQueen’s shows. Finding pictures of shows online is quite fascinating as well, and it helped me see and understand why everyone is so captivated by McQueen’s presentation. He was a truly unique designer; his collections are works of art. The designs that came down the runway at McQueen’s shows captivated viewers with their beauty. Alexander McQueen has already gone down in history as a brilliant designer and he is greatly missed by the fashion industry. He is the epitome of talent gone too soon.