Alexander McQueen: A Retrospective
Alexander McQueen combined his mastery at tailoring, meticulous workmanship of the French haute couture and his powerful imagination to produce incredible apparel.
During his career Alexander McQueen won British Fashion Designer of the Year four times becoming one of the youngest designers to win this achievement. He was honored as a commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. In 2007 he was GQ’s Menswear Designer of the Year and in 2009, his sleeveless dress worn by Camilla Belle was listed among the "100 Best dresses of the Decade" by InStyle magazine.
Born on March 17, 1969, Lee Alexander McQueen started his career as an apprentice with the renowned Saville Row tailor, Anderson & Sheppard. Alexander McQueen made clothing for customers such as Mikhail Gorbachev and Prince Charles (he admitted that he once wrote "I am a cunt" in the lining of a jacket made for the Prince of Wales). He then moved on to join the internationally acclaimed authority on British tailoring, Gieves & Hawkes which has been in business for over 200 years. By the late 1980's, looking to be more creative, he went to work with theatrical costumiers, Angels and Bermans. Here he was able to flourish and delve into the fantastical. It was also here that he mastered 6 methods of pattern cutting from the melodramatic to the highly sophisticated.
In 1992, Alexander McQueen went to one of London's most prestigious fashion schools, Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, where he received a masters degree in fashion design. His entire graduation collection was bought by Isabella Blow, a prominent fashion stylist. They seemed to have been fairly close for most of their relationship (Isabella Blow would take her own life in 2007). McQueen dedicated his 2008 show entitled La Dame Bleue at Paris fashion week to her. His invitations were illustrations which depicted a triumphant Blow in a McQueen dress and Philip Treacy headdress in a horse-drawn carriage ascending to heaven.
From 1996 to 2001, Alexander McQueen worked as head designer for the illustrious Hubert de Givenchy, succeeding John Galliano who had just left to join Christian Dior. After five years he launched his own label, Alexander McQueen. His collections included women's ready-to-wear, men's ready-to-wear, accessories and eyewear. Many of his designs have been worn by celebrities such as Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Penelope Cruz, Sarah Jessica Parker, Victoria Beckham and Nicole Kidman. His dress, inspired by a Japanese kimono, is worn by Bjork on the cover of her album Homogenic and he also directed the music video for her song "Alarm Call".
He was adept as both a designer and a businessman. His label did so well that Gucci Group bought 51% of his company and he stayed as their partner and Creative Director. The deal also included the establishment of his own 'house' in Paris and included ten new McQueen stores. In 2003, he launched his own sweet, fruity fragrance called Kingdom. In 2005, he collaborated with Puma to create a special line of athletic shoes inspired by the anatomy of the human foot. In 2006, he came out with another clothing line called McQ which was a lower priced line of his work for both men and women. By 2007, he had boutiques in London, New York, Los Angeles, Milan and Las Vegas.
Alexander McQueen was openly gay and once described himself as the pink sheep of the family. "I was sure of myself and my sexuality and I've got nothing to hide. I went straight from my mother's womb into the gay pride parade." Although he married his partner, documentary filmmaker George Forsyth in 2000, with close friend model Kate Moss as a bridesmaid, they had broken up by 2007.
Alexander McQueen was credited for adding a sense of fantasy and rebellion to fashion. He liked using sensational, shock techniques on the runway with his line of couture. His designs were daring, edgy and tenacious and left the fashion world holding their breath in anticipation for what he was going to launch next. He became known as "the hooligan of English fashion" and "l’enfant terrible". His low-rise pants aptly named "bumsters" started the trend in low-rise jeans. He first introduced them in a collection entitled, Highland Rape. The pants had a waistband so low that you could see part of the buttocks. His models were also dressed in ripped lace dresses and skirts with what appeared to be tampon strings attached. The tabloid headlines made him a household name. His runway shows were controversial and over-the-top. In 1996, his Hunger show evoked images of bondage and decay. In 1998, he had a show which had car robots spraying paint over white cotton dresses and used double amputee model Aimee Mullins as the center of the show. The show was presented in a spirit of empowerment and inclusivity. He later recreated a shipwreck for his Spring 2003 collection and a human chess game for his Spring 2005 show. In 2006, he featured a life-sized hologram of supermodel Kate Moss dressed in yards of fabric fluttering around her beautiful figure.