Alexander McQueen

The fashion designer who embraced audacity

Alexander McQueen

1969–2010

Alexander McQueen was long regarded as the British fashion industry’s enfant terrible. Among his creations were “bumster” trousers, which were cut so low that they exposed the wearer’s buttocks, and monstrous “armadillo” shoes with 12-inch heels. Equally memorable were his dazzling runway presentations, which he called “my own living nightmares.” He was found hanged last week in his London apartment, in an apparent suicide.

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McQueen grew up in working-class London. “One of his earliest memories was sitting at home when he was 3 and drawing a picture of a dress on a piece of bare wall,” said the New York Daily News. He graduated from making clothes for his sisters to an apprenticeship on Savile Row. “There he demonstrated his showman tendencies by reportedly scrawling ‘McQueen Was Here’ inside the lining of suits,” one of which was slated for Prince Charles. In 1994, English style icon Isabella Blow established his reputation by buying his entire graduation project at Central Saint Martins College—a collection with a Jack the Ripper theme.

As chief designer at Givenchy and creative director at Gucci, McQueen was bold and versatile. He would create smart suits that were worn by Michelle Obama, or a kimono with a 25-foot train and bodices made entirely of peacock feathers. “He often showed a dark streak,” said The New York Times. McQueen would cloak his models in burqas, chadors, and other confining garments, sometimes encasing their faces in chain mail or draping them in animal skeletons. In his 1995 “highland rape” collection, which attacked England’s treatment of Scotland, “the models appeared to be brutalized, wearing lacy dresses with hems and bodices ripped open, their hair tangled and their eyes blanked out with opaque contact lenses.” He explained, “Nicey nicey just doesn’t do it for me.” Once, he mooned his audience; another time, his models “walked the runway with their middle fingers extended.”

McQueen apparently killed himself on the eve of his mother’s funeral. He had reportedly been deeply upset by her death, on Feb. 2, as well as by that of his patron Blow, who committed suicide in 2007 by ingesting weed killer.

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