My heart broke the day McQueen died. In wake of the 2nd anniversary of his death, a reflection of his career and the recent developments of his label without him demonstrate not only the flawless preservation of his legacy, but his burning enthusiasm for unforgiving beauty.
Born Lee Alexander McQueen, the part Scottish designer began his career working for pattern cutter tutor at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design in 1994. It was however his natural talent, evident in his portfolio, that enabled him to enroll in the course as a student, persuaded by the Head of the Masters course. After receiving his masters in Fashion Design and selling his collection to influential fashion stylist Isabella Blow, McQueen heeded advice and adopted his middle name professionally, launching his label Alexander McQueen.
Soon to be known as the ‘hooligan of English Fashion’, McQueen’s runway collections would draw in more shock tactics and controversy than any other designer of his time. Using theatrical elements to enhance the model’s performance, McQueen combined his aesthetic preferences with his political grudges to produce some of the industry’s most popular trends. Trousers aptly named ‘bumsters’, slouching off the model’s rear from his 1995 ‘Highland Rape’ collection was a combination of masculine clothes for women and McQueen’s frustration at England’s suffocating control over Scotland at the time. Similarly, in 1998, McQueen hosted a show which included spraying paint over white cotton dresses and a delicious oxymoron with double amputee model Aimee Mullins striding down the catwalk on intricately carved wooden legs.
Collaborations with the designer also proved to be successful, despite surrounding controversy. The president of LVMH, Bernard Arnault, caused a stir in the fashion world by appointing McQueen head designer at Givenchy in 1996, succeeding John Galliano. His first couture collection with Givenchy however, was unsuccessful, encouraging McQueen to tone his designs down but not without a creative streak. In addition, a partnership with Gucci in 2000 and collaboration with MAC Cosmetics in 2007, inspired by the 1962 film ‘Cleopatra’ saw McQueen’s creativity return to the fast, rebellious lane of the runway.
But the brutal truth eventually strikes; all good things must come to an end. McQueen’s death was announced on 11th February 2012 when he was found hanging at his home in London. Days before London Fashion Week and 9 days after the death of his mother, a close friend David LaChapelle said how McQueen ‘was doing a lot of drugs and was very unhappy’ just before his death, unable to cope with his mother’s death. On 17th February 2010, Westminster Coroner’s Court was told that a post-mortem examination found that McQueen’s death was due to asphyxiation and hanging from his ‘favourite brown belt’, after ingesting a cocktail of cocaine and sleeping pills. Additionally, the inquest recorded that he had slashed his wrists with a ceremonial dagger and a meat cleaver.
The label without McQueen has, thankfully, lived on with the same fiery passion that he first ignited. On 27 May 2010, Sarah Burton, former St Martin’s student and McQueen’s right-hand design aide since 1996, was announced as the new creative director of the Alexander McQueen brand. Burton unveiled her first collection as director in Paris the following February and was praised with the obvious effort to preserve the creative spirit of the label. Burton remarked “I’m not going to wipe the slate clean. That would be wiping me away. There will always be those McQueen elements, but at the same time…you have to stay true to yourself. That’s what Lee drummed in to me: you have to be able to stand behind your work.”
Looking back on his career, it is bitter-sweet to see how one of fashion’s greatest minds is still alive and well in the fashion industry. With the bewitching ‘Savage Beauty’ exhibition of 2011 and contrasting charm of Catherine Middleton’s wedding dress, it’s evident that the label will continue to flourish, preserving the stylish rebellion of it’s creator.