For Peggy Morrison
“If you don’t have passion for something, you shouldn't’t be doing it in the first place” Alexander McQueen
Biography “People find my things sometimes aggressive. But I don’t see it as aggressive. I see it as romantic , dealing with a dark side of personality “
Lee Alexander McQueen, the greatest and the most controversial fashion designer of his generation was born on March 17,1969 in Lewisham, South London. Members of his family worked the same job, as a London cabbie. His father, Ronald, was of a Scottish decent and his mother, Joyce, was a teacher , florist and amateur genealogist. His mother later discovered Viking, Norman and Huguenot ancestry. Her interest in unraveling history and identity had a long lasting effect on Lee and it gave him the room to explore and let his mind into its own world of imagination. Leeâ€™s early interests were drawing early attempts of dressmaking-where at the early age of three ,to his fatherâ€™s irritation drew a Cinderella-style gown with a crinoline on the wall of his bedroom. He also shared a similar interest in birds swimming, He was in awe by the nature and the beauty that was there in the freedom of flying high into the sky- the silhouette of birds taking flight. Which he later used in his design method, he would observe by looking at a body in profile to visualize the rear with bobbing tail feathers
“ I always ,always wanted to be a designer. I read books on fashion from the age of twelve" Lee had difficulty in concentrating, he was diagnosed with ADD – but in those times it was called stupidity. Whereas , McQueen was anything but stupid, he was visually literate – he studied images keenly and it’s the most gifted attribute a designer to possess. Joyce, his mother was always supportive and allowed him to explore beyond his realm. In the year 1985 she encouraged him to try and secure an apprentice position at the Savile Row. At that time Alexander had left school at sixteen ,went to a local technical college and worked at a pub to earn money. Soon he became an apprentice tailor at Anderson & Sheppard and learnt the basicslity of tailoring .He perfected his skills at Savile Row.
While working for Savile row his clients included Mikhal Gorbachev and Prince Charles. It is said that he used to inscribe “McQueen Was Here”( and more pretentious obscenities, which he later denied) more on the interlining of the Prince of Wales’s coat. This later was said to be an urban legend since no such graffiti were found when Anderson and Sheppard recalled all the suits. Furthermore, it just sustained McQueen’s reputation as a fashion rebel. Over the years of learning and working with Anderson & Sheppard, at the age of 20 ,he apprenticed with Koji Tastuno in London before travelling to Milan, Italy and working with Romeo Gigli . When McQueen returned back to London in 1994 ,he then applied to Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. When Bobby Hilson ,the Head of the Masters course found Lee McQueen ,with his experience she had thought that he was looking for a job- but later found out that he was interested in enrolling as student .
“All that talent came via a very complicated personality” Bobby Hillson ,founder of MA fashion at CSM, Mentor of Lee McQueen
He built a solid reputation for cutting edge collections and wasn’t “influenced” by anyone but. Was obsessed by John Galliano. He was another British designer that was important to him. “Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims” was the Lee McQueen’s degree collection and was shown in July 1992 at London’s Kensington Olympia exhibition center. He displayed a skill to take elements from the past and reinvent them for a much modern and unaware audience. “I like to challenge history because of the traditions my life is based on, and sometimes (my work is) autobiographical” His six-piece MA collection showed his capability with tailoring and fabric, models bodies sculpted by cuirass corsetry ,tight lacing and bustles. Heavy chignons were enhanced by the addition of a “tail” of human hair .London prostitutes also supplemented their meager income by selling there hair. McQueen adverted to this by cutting his own hair and transporting it into his collection.
â€œThe inspiration behind the hair came from Victorian times when prostitutes would sell their for kits of hair locks, which were bought by people to give to their lovers. I used it as my signature label with locks of hair in Perspex. In the early collections, it was my own hairâ€?
His sources came from deep within, a Cherry Pink silk (with barbed thorn print by Simon Ungless) was cut tight to the body, tailored in Savile Row style, with tight sleeves ;the interior lining decorated with human hair. Bobby Hillson recalls “ His facility was that he could interpret whatever inspired him. It was undiluted and absolutely his own.”
Above: Cherry Pink silk and the interior lining decorated with human hair.
To his advantage Isabella Blow spotted him at the show and that help a lot to network. She loved new talents and adored clothes. Described as an eccentric ,she was in fact a throwback to the “dames de vogue” of interwar period, client of the finest couturiers of the period. Blow was most often ,every time fearless about hoe she looked; she enjoyed the joy she felt through creativity of those she befriended. A well-known friend and patron of Philip Treacy; by occupation she was a freelance stylist.
The Legend remains that Isabella Blow “discovered” Lee McQueen , but the truth is, he had already discovered himself at Saint Martins. He charged Isabella Blow £5,000 for the whole degree collection and she took him under his wing right after he graduated from Saint Martins. McQueen's early runway collections had further developed his reputation for controversy and shock tactics with trousers named “bumsters” and a collection titled “Highland Rape”; got a very negative repose due to the use of the word “rape”. Some felt that his production values and extreme runway presentation style tended to overshadow the wearable and the sales of the clothes that he created. Nonetheless Alexander has also been credited with bringing drama and extravagance to the catwalk. Fantasy meet the world of reality of fashion in McQueen's shows as models walked water , walked through fire ,rainstorms ,thunder & lightning or perform on ice skates in snow-filled plexiglass box.
Amongst his collections, the most memorable runways were : “Highland Rape” , “Bellmer La Poupée”, “The Birds” , “Overlook” , “VOSS” , “Shipwrecked” and “Deliverance” . All in all is a story and a beautiful saga to witness and to watch. Despite being the bad boy of fashion, McQueen must have done something right. In the year of 1997 ,he was hired by LVMH as a chief designer at Givenchy ,replacing John Galliano. His first collection at Givenchy was brutalized by the press and so were several other after them . Regardless McQueen worked with incredible talent at the Givenchy workroom, which were at his disposal. He got to learn a whole lot more ;the combination proved to be more than workable. Given the rumors circling at that time , his contract was renewed; which is when he truly began working with the system than against it.
Alexander McQueen at Givenchy ,1998
In early 2001 it was announced that the Gucci Group had purchased 51% of McQueen, indicating that he may be replacing Tom Ford; which again remained a rumor. His previous association with LVMH did end quite badly and he did not become a designer at Gucci. McQueen continued to show his signature collections and many other signature boutiques were opened ;which were again financed by the Gucci Group. The finance also supported his extravagant runway and shows; later he also introduced his fragrance , Kingdom in 2003 and My Queen in 2005
Alexander McQueen : Kingdom
Alexander McQueen : My Queen
Along with the fragrance line he also created a range of sports shoes for German Manufacturer , Puma as well as luggage for Samsonite .Then came the introduction of his secondary line called McQ as well as a menswear range. Along with other accomplishment of McQueen being one of the youngest designer to achieve the title “British Designer of the Year” , which he won consecutively four time between 1996 and 2003; he was also awarded the CBE and named International Designer of the year by the Council of Fashion Designers in 2003 Later down the years , McQueen received press attention after Isabella Blow’s suicide in May 2007. Rumors were published that there was a rift between McQueen and Blow at the time of her passing, focusing on McQueen’s under-appreciation of Blow.
“Its so much bollocks. These people just don’t know what they’re talking about .They don’t know me. They don’t know my relationship with Isabella .Its complete bullshit. People can talk; you can ask her sisters… The part of the industry ,they should stay away from my life, or mine and Isabella’s life. What I had with Isabella was completely dissociated from fashion, beyond fashion” Alexander McQueen on Isabella Blow
On February 11,2010 , Lee Alexander McQueen took his own life , just nine days after his mother had died. She had been diagnosed with cancer in 2008, her role in shaping up his son’s extraordinary talent cannot be overestimated ,her fascination with history and sense of identity that came from her constant research into the family tree had provided him with a profound sense that anything was possible. She was his rock and also her refuge, she passes away on February 2, 2010; his greatest fear , was dying before her. Joyce’s death later proved to be devastating . Nine days later, just a day before Joyce’s funeral ,he hung himself with his “favorite brown belt” in his apartment McQueen left a note inscribed in the catalog of artist Wolfe von Lenkiewicz’s “The Descent of Man”. Remain private , apart from the words “Please look after my dogs. Sorry, I love you. P.S Bury me in church”
Lee Alexander McQueen’s Final Bow at the finale of his Spring 2010 in Paris. (Plato’s Atlantis)
The Early Shows
â€œI want to empower women. I want people to be afraid of the women I dressâ€?
“You’ve got to know the rules to break them. That's what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition.”
The Birds Spring/Summer 1995
“I know I’m provocative. You don’t have to like it ,but you do have to acknowledge it”
Highland Rape Autumn/Winter 1995-1996
“I hate it when people romanticize Scotland…There’s nothing romantic about its history.”
The Hunger Spring/Summer 1996
“I need inspiration. I need something to fuel my imagination , and the shows are what spur me on, make me excited about what I’m! doing. When you are designing with a buyer in mind, the collection doesn't’t work. The danger is that you lose the creativity that drives you”
Dante Autumn/Winter 1996-1997
â€œI oscillate between life and death, happiness and sadness, good and evilâ€?
Bellmer La PoupĂŠe Spring/Summer 1997
â€œFor me, what I do is an artistic expression which is channeled through me. Fashion is just the mediumâ€?
Itâ€™s a Jungle Out There Fall/Winter 1997
“That’s how I see human life. You know we can be discarded quite easily. This show reflected my state of mind; it really was a jungle out there.”
The Golden Shower aka. Untitled Spring/Summer 1998
â€œI like to think of myself as a plastic surgeon with a knifeâ€?
Joan Autumn/Winter 1998-1999
“I don’t really get inspired(by specific women)…Its more in the minds of women in the past like Catherine the Great . People who were doomed. Joan of Arc or Colette. Iconic women”
No:13 Autumn/ Winter 1998-1999
â€œI try to and modify fashion like a scientist by offering what is relevant today and what will continue to be so tomorrow.â€?
The Overlook Autumn/Winter 1999-2000
â€œI spent a long time learning how to construct clothes, which is important to so before you can deconstruct themâ€?
The Eye Spring/Summer 2000
“Its almost like putting armor on a women. It’s a very psychological way of dressing.”
Eshu Autumn/Winter 2000-2001
“Fashion can be really racist, looking at clothes of other cultures as costumes…That’s mundane and its old hat. Let's breakdown some barriers.”
Voss Spring/Summer 2001
â€œI'm inspired by a feather but also its colour, its graphics, its weightlessness and its engineering. Its so elaborate. In fact, I try and transpose the beauty of a bird to women.â€?
What a Merry-Go-Around Autumn/Winter 2001-2002
â€œThere is a hidden agenda in the fragility of romanceâ€?
The Dance of the Twisted Bull Spring/Summer 2002
“Women should look like women. A piece of cardboard has no sexuality”
Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious Autumn-Winter 2002-2003
â€œI like things to be modern and still have a bit of traditionâ€?
Irene Spring/Summer 2003
â€œI have always loved the mechanics of nature, and to a greater extent, my work is always informed by that.â€?
Scanners Autumn/Winter 2003-2004
â€œI wanted it to be a nomadic journey across the tundraâ€?
Deliverance Spring/Summer 2004
“There is no way back for me now. I am going to take you on journeys you’ve never dreamed were possible.”
Pantheon as Lecum Autumn/Winter 2004-2005
â€œBecause of my training as a tailor, my work involves lots of love and care, which is why so many of my clothes are made by hand here in London. Not to wow the crowd during a show, but because I love it.â€?
Its only a Game Spring/Summer 2005
“That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the riles but to keep the tradition.”
The Man Who Knew Too Much Autumn/Winter 2005-2006
â€œI want to create pieces that can be handed down, like an heirloom.â€?
Neptune Spring/Summer 2006
“Women can be anything”
Widows of Culloden Autumn/Winter 2006-2007
“I wanted to exaggerate a woman’s form, almost along the lines of a classical statue.”
Sarabande Spring/Summer 2007
â€œPeople find my things sometimes aggressive. But I donâ€™t see it as aggressive. I see it as romantic ,dealing with a dark side of personality.â€?
In Memory of Elizabeth Howe, Salem,1692 Autumn/Winter 2007-2008
â€œIt is important to look at death because it is a part of life. It is a sad thing, melancholic but romantic at the same time.â€?
La Dame Bleue Spring/Summer 2008
â€œBeauty can come from the strangest placesâ€?
The Girl Who Lived in the Tree Autumn/Winter 2008-2009
â€œWhen I design, I try to sell an image of a woman that I have in (my) mind, a concept that changes dramatically each season.â€?
Natural Dis-Inction, UnNatural Selection Spring/Summer 2009
“Animals…Fascinate me because you can find a force, an energy, a fear that also exist in sex.”
The Horn of Plenty Autumn/Winter 2009-2010
“I’m not big on women looking naïve.”
Platoâ€™s Atlantis Spring/Summer 2010
â€œThe body parts that I focus on change depending on the inspirations and reference for the collection and what silhouette they demandâ€?
Angels and Demons/Untitled Autumn/Winter 2010-2011
A week after McQueen's death, the Gucci Group announced its partnership with Alexander McQueen would still continue. Although the collection on which Late Alexander McQueen last worked on was shown to a selected audience as a small-scale and an intimate presentation during Paris Fashion Week. There were sixteen pieces that he had cut and draped himself for the collection; these were all completed by his head of womenswear design, Sarah Burton McQueen could have taken â€œAngels and Demons in any number of directions, but he took a more calm and an intimate setting, it enclosed the excitement; soaking in the images that fired his imagination and his spirit. Behind all this creation was his motherâ€™s encouragement and support. Her passing away must have been truly unbearable.
The Legacy Continues… On May 27,2010, Sarah Burton ;McQueen’s right hand for sixteen years was named as the new creative director of Alexander McQueen. The brand changed to a much gentler McQueen. His work can definitely not be duplicated, since each collection is paced and considered . The shock and jaw dropping theatrical brilliance has been numbed, but she was still praised for lightness and having a ‘woman’s touch’. Sarah showed her first womenswear show on 5th October 2010 in Paris, where she had revealed that the brand would be “lighter”; the show didn't’t only turn out to be a huge success but it was also one of the strongest shows at the Paris Fashion Week. It had all the McQueen trademark and ideas and it was far more optimistic sensibility. For people who still doubted her talent and ability she proved them wrong by designing the wedding dress worn by Catherine Middleton ,during her wedding to Prince William, Duke of Cambridge on 29th April 2011 On 28th November 2011, Sarah Burton won the Designer of the Year at the British Fashion Awards.
Sarah Burton ,Creative Director of Alexander McQueen.
Alexander McQueen and his mother Joyce McQueen
Isabella Blow and Lee Alexander McQueen, 1996 Actress Sarah Jessica Parker and Alexander McQueen arrive for Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit Gala “Anglomania”
Kate Moss, Sarah Jessica Parker , Anna Wintour ,Daphne Guiness and Naomi Campbell attending Alexander's funeral
Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow . Photo by David LaChapelle