Weird and Wonderful: Alexander McQueen
Born on 17th March 1969, Lee Alexander McQueen was raised in a council estate in East London, with a very modest upbringing. From an early age, he became interested in fashion and the design and structure of clothing, later dropping out of school at the age of 16 to start an apprenticeship at tailor’s Anderson and Shepherd on Saville Row. During this apprenticeship, McQueen learned the most intricate and sharpest of tailoring skills, which he carried onto his next jobs at Gives and Hawkes, as well as Angels and Bermans. These roles taught him a wide range of techniques on how to construct the most immaculate of tailoring; a skill which undoubtedly started off his whirlwind of a career.
Upon completing a Masters Degree in Fashion Design at Central St. Martins in his early 20s, McQueen’s final collection was extremely well received and created a lot of media attention amongst the industry, in particular Isabella Blow, who became McQueen’s close friend and mentor. His career firmly took off when he became head designer for Givenchy, working for the company for five years, until finally concentrating on turning his own label into a powerful fashion empire.
McQueen was particularly famous for his ‘bumsters’ – controversially low-strung trousers which became a trend in 1996, spreading amongst the public who began to adorn low-rise jeans and hipsters. Although controversial, this trend defined McQueen and firmly put him on the map. His trademark skull prints and motifs spread from the catwalk to the high street, resulting in countless copies of scarves and bags created and sold worldwide.
Due to McQueen’s impeccable tailoring skills, he became renowned for his beautifully sharp tailored suits and ensembles, contrasting to his elaborate and surrealist designs, showing the world the wide range of talent he had. Customers of his sharp suits have included Prince Charles, as well as other famous personalities around the world who were becoming and more and more dazzled by McQueen’s clothes. Although a creator of elaborate and obscure fashion designs, McQueen was not all about the crazy looks on the catwalk, but also stunning, wearable clothes such as pencil skirts and feminine prints. The sharp cut of his clothes, commonly shown on the catwalk, began to filter onto the high street and thus influenced widely the structuring and prints of clothing worn by the public.
When it comes to obscure fashion and theatrical catwalk shows, no one can argue that Alexander McQueen was one of the greats. He used new and emerging technology in his shows to create jaw-dropping phenomena and twists to astound his audiences. His most memorable shows included a volcanic catwalk that erupted into flames, a giant plexiglass snowstorm, and of course the hologram of Kate Moss in 2006. His shows weren’t just about the clothing, but about the production and the theatrics, creating something for people to witness and be a part of and not just to mundanely watch.
As well as his catwalk designs, McQueen chose controversial and striking models to match his extreme, unconventional and bizarre clothing; 1998 saw the contentious show where Aimee Mullins, a double amputee, appeared on the catwalk with wooden legs. McQueen was very much driven by creating spectacles that made the audience think and move completely out of their comfort zones, and ultimately to expect the unexpected.
When Alexander McQueen tragically committed suicide on 11th February 2010, a huge array of people, celebrities and fans were shocked and heartbroken. Personalities such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss attended his funeral, where guests grieved the loss of an extremely talented and pleasant man who died prematurely with the promise of a phenomenal life ahead of him.
Although the brilliance of Sarah Burton has continued the Alexander McQueen empire in a way that would undoubtedly make him proud, no one will ever forget the genius talent of Lee Alexander himself. From shows featuring birdcages and butterflies, feathered wings and towering heels to catwalks filled with water and holograms to make an audience stare in disbelief, it seems that no one will ever quite match the astounding and exciting influence that Alexander McQueen had on the fashion world.
Written by Heather Barras