Lee Alexander McQueen would have been 46 today. His star burned brightly, but briefly, as he died at the age of 40 in February 2010.
Unlike some of the designers I’ve written about, who came from privileged and aristocratic backgrounds (Gaby from Chloe, Givenchy in particular) McQueen was the son of a taxi driver and teacher. He was the youngest of six children, and made dresses for his three sisters from a very young age. Leaving school with an O-level in art, he joined Savile Row tailors Anderson & Shepherd as an apprentice (and then Gieves & Hawkes) which gave him a solid foundation in tailoring.
He applied to Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design to work as a pattern cutter tutor, but was persuaded to enrol instead on the Masters course in fashion design. His 1992 graduation collection was famously bought in its entirety by influential fashion stylist Isabella Blow. Legend has it that it was she who persuaded McQueen to become known as ‘Alexander’.
His life may have been short but his achievements were many. McQueen went on to work as chief designer at Givenchy (succeeding John Galliano) and to found his own label. He designed the wardrobe for David Bowie’s tours in the late ‘90s and the Union Jack coat worn on Bowie’s ‘Earthling’ album cover (the jacket was exhibited as of the Bowie ‘Is’ exhibition at the V&A in 2013). He won four British Designer of the Year Awards and was awarded a CBE in 2003.
McQueen has had a lasting impact on fashion. His ‘bumsters’ kickstarted the trend in low slung jeans when he debuted them in 1993. His skull scarves remain covetable and repeatedly copied. ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ opens this week at the V&A to huge demand. The exhibition spans his entire career – from his 1992 graduate collection to his unfinished A/W 2010 collection. I can’t wait to see it….
‘Enfant terrible’ ? Probably. Genius ? Definitely.