He was fashion’s anarchist, he was a dreamer, he was a restless soul, he was a legend. He’s gone. His name: Lee Alexander McQueen.
Text: Danae Terzakou
“When I’m dead and gone, people will know that the 21st century was started by Alexander McQueen”. Known for his imaginative, breath-talking collections, his dramatic avant-garde shows and his unconventional yet poetic perspective. As his trademark grew, so did the myth-making around him.
On February 11, 2010 –only nine days after his mother’s death from cancer- his housekeeper found his body hanging on his flat, in London. He was forty years old and he had been under treatment for depression. While he had many anxieties and insecurities, running out of ideas wasn’t definitely among them. His first job was with Anderson & Shepherd, one of Britain’s most glorious tailors, where he learned to cut jackets. Rumors has it that he had sewn a salacious message into the lining of a coat destined for Prince Charles -though the message was never found. Later on he moved to a “rival”, Gieves & Hawkes, then to a theatrical costumier, and on to the atelier of an avant-garde designer, Koji Tatsuno. McQueen enclosed his boyhood years in Milan, working for his god, Romeo Gigli—the so-called modern Poiret. Returning to London, he earned a master’s in fashion design in 1994 from St. Martin’s and Isabella Blow bought his entire degree collection.
At the age of twenty-seven he took over Givenchy fashion house, as a chief designer, in his buzz cut, his baby face, wearing his Doc Martens. In 2000, his Alexander McQueen label was bought by the Gucci group; he was the group’s creative director and a year after, he left Givenchy. He always knew that he would “be someone” in fashion. And someone he was. A showman, a true fashion original yet a shy and sensitive soul, he used to say: “There is something sinister, something quite biographical about what I do – but that part is for me. It’s my personal business. I think there is a lot of romance, melancholy. There’s a sadness to it, but there’s romance in sadness. I suppose I am a very melancholy person”.
He was an expert on how to put together legendary shows, that were pure poetry. He wanted fashion to have depth and perspective, so he put on spectacles out of his collections that aimed to have the thrust of art and that were sometimes political, sociological, shocking and scary. He drew inspiration from punk, Surrealism, Japan and fin-de-siècle aestheticism. In most particulars, however—including his death—he was an archetypal Romantic. He was the youngest designer that manage to obtain a series of awards and titles. In 2006 he launched a rogue, low-priced line for both men and women, entitled McQ.
After his sudden doom, his assistant for 13 years, Sarah Burton, took over. She manage to preserve McQueen’s spirit and craftsmanship. She commenced the her first menswear collection Pomp and Circumstance , for the brand in June 2010, receiving positive reviews, though it is said that it wasn’t pompous at all. On 2011 she launched a series of fine scarfs, dedicated to Lee McQueen, the so-called “God Save McQueen”.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, hosted a retrospective exhibition of his work, titled “Savage Beauty”, a medium to honor him and share his work with the entire world. He may be dead and gone but his voice echoes through his legacy and Sarah Burton’s work. He once said: “From the old narrative of life and death. I’ve started to think on a wider scope. I mean I’ve done religion, done sex, done politics and death in a big way. Maybe I should start doing life – but life is all of those”.