A tremendous loss to the fashion world, Alexander McQueen has committed suicide at the age of 40. The British designer was found dead this morning in London, reportedly by hanging. The news follows just nine days after the death of McQueen’s mother Joyce. Three months after the suicide, also by hanging, of South Korean model Daul Kim, a favourite of McQueen. And three years after the suicide of close friend, British stylist Isabella Blow, who launched McQueen’s career in 1992, after purchasing his entire graduation collection from Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.
Born on the 17th March 1969 in London’s East End, the son of a taxi driver and a social science teacher, McQueen made clothing for his sisters at an early age, before leaving school at 16 to pursue an apprenticeship on the hallowed tailoring ground of London’s Savile Row, where he worked for Anderson & Sheppard and later, Gieves & Hawkes. While at the latter, McQueen famously penned the words "I am a cunt” in biro into the lining of a suit destined for Prince Charles. In 2003 he nevertheless accepted a CBE, “for my parents” he told SHOWstudio.
McQueen also worked briefly for the London costume supplier Angels & Bermans, where he worked on productions such as Les Mis, in addition to fashion houses Koji Tatsuno and Romeo Gigli. In 1990 he was offered a highly coveted place in Saint Martins’ MA design course - after initially being knocked back for a patternmaker tutor's job for which he had applied at the college.
In 1993 McQueen launched his own label with a small collection in the Bluebird Garage on the King’s Road, Chelsea. His subversive edge was evidenced from the get go, with the launch collection including a skirt emblazoned with images of an electric chair.
The Fall/Winter 1995/1996 Highland Rape collection, which featured torn bodices and tampon string-festooned skirts, garnered controversy. Accused of misogyny, McQueen said it was an artistic statement on the rape of the Scottish Highlands by the British.
In 1998, he was obliged to change the name of one show – The Golden Shower – after objections by sponsor American Express. Models walked through water illuminated by yellow light with horse bits in their mouths.
In 1996, after just eight collections, McQueen was appointed creative director of the French haute couture house of Givenchy, where he worked for four years producing both ready to wear and haute couture.
In December 2000 – the same year he began showing the Alexander McQueen collection in Paris - McQueen sold a 51% stake in his company to Gucci Group. This enabled him to build a global brand that now embraces boutiques, perfume and accessories. In 2008, the company finally turned a profit.
In addition to a CBE, McQueen was named British Designer of the Year four times between 1996 and 2003 and also the CFDA’s International Designer of the Year in 2003.
McQueen will be remembered as a creative genius, who pushed the concept of the fashion show to its greatest contemporary heights.
Yes his tailoring was exceptional. Beyond the razor-cut day suiting which made his name, he introduced the term “bumster” to the modern fashion lexicon: trousers cut so low they exposed bottom cleavage.
But arguably McQueen’s greatest legacy is his extraordinary showmanship which has influenced a generation of designers. After seven years of highly imaginative shows in London, his theatrical vision was finally fully realised thanks to the deep pockets of Gucci Group.
Notable productions include Spring/Summer 2004's They Shoot Horses Don’t They and the Fall/Winter 2006/2007 Widows of Culloden show, at the conclusion of which McQueen blew his audience away with what many described as a life-sized holographic image of Kate Moss (the bridesmaid at McQueen’s 2001 wedding to George Forsyth).
In fact, as McQueen’s longtime stage designer told me backstage at his Spring/Summer 2008 show, it was a Victorian era illusion called Pepper’s Ghost.
In March 2009, set against a backdrop of garbage and featuring wildly theatrical makeup and styling, the breathtaking Horn of Plenty show provided a mini retrospective of McQueen's best-known work.
McQueen's last collection, presented in October 2009 and titled Plato’s Atlantis, will be his epitaph.
The collection was inspired by his love of scuba diving (he also had a passion for ornithology from a young age, which may partially explain his love of costume feathers). The futuristic production, which was live streamed to the net, featured models wearing sculpted minidresses emblazoned with multicoloured reptilian prints - but most notably, 12-inch platform booties that McQueen called “Armadillos” which have since been widely photographed.
As revealed by this blog in December, models Abbey Lee Kershaw, Natasha Poly and Sasha Pivovarova refused to walk in them.
Frockwriter predicts McQueen's mourners will be wearing them to his funeral.