Fashion world mourns "genius" McQueen

PUBLISHED: 14:01 23 February 2010 | UPDATED: 00:58 16 June 2010

February 11, 2010, marked the opening of New York Fashion Week. Hype and celebration were called to an abrupt end after the fashion world learnt of the death of legendary designer Alexander McQueen.

February 11, 2010, marked the opening of New York Fashion Week. Hype and celebration were called to an abrupt end after the fashion world learnt of the death of legendary designer Alexander McQueen. His beloved mother's death only days earlier is cited as the reason for McQueen's suicide.

Lee Alexander McQueen started his forty years humbly in comparison to his extravagant later life. Son of a taxi driver and a social science teacher, McQueen was born with the fashion bug and it was this passion that drove him to leave school at 16 to complete apprenticeships on Savile Row. He later received his masters from distinguished Central Saint Martin's College of Art and Design in Fashion Design. The foundations were set, and McQueen started his career as we now know it, but not before adopting the commercial name Alexander McQueen, his middle name, advised by the late fashion stylist Isabella Blow.

McQueen's influence on fashion today is unquestionable. Alexander is the designer responsible for low-slung jeans, coined as "bumsters" in 1996 when he put them in his first shows. This brave, provocative action by McQueen elicited several column inches; some dismissive, some delighted. If McQueen was anything, it wasn't boring. Michael Oliveira-Salac, the director of Blow PR and a friend of McQueen's early days in the industry, remarked: "For me it was the look that put him on the map because it was controversial." A star had been born, and the "bumsters" marked the first of a succession of McQueen's techniques to radicalise fashion, and quash its conventions.

Classic tailoring, however, was seen as McQueen's real forte. Undoubtedly his apprenticeships with tailors Anderson and Sheppard, then Gieves and Hawkes and later Angels and Bermans built on McQueen's existing giftedness. His high-end creations such as sharp suits and feminine, structured pencil-skirts trickled down to the high-street, confirming his design's wearability as well as catwalk wowability. Quite simply put: "He was incredibly clever at cutting clothes," explains British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman.

McQueen was fearless, and this shone through his mould-breaking choices of models at the time. Most notably, Alexander used double amputee Aimee Mullins as a model on the catwalk, wearing a pair of carved wooden prosthetic legs. He is also recognised as one of first designers to use Indian models on the runway. His fashion shows were anything but mundane, for "everybody was waiting to see who was on the catwalk, and what they were wearing" remarks Helen Boyle, fashion stylist and presenter. McQueen looked beyond simply the clothes, paying attention to make-up, shown by his collaboration with make-up giant MAC to devise ranges based on his catwalk shows. McQueen also incorporated a theatrical nature to his shows, his showman extravagance reflected in technological stunts such as the 3D projection of supermodel Kate Moss onto the catwalk in 2006.

Alexander McQueen was an atypical designer of his generation. His 'bad-boy' shock antics sparked his nickname, 'L'Enfant Terrible. However it was this unconventionality that won the heart of the fashion community. McQueen was highly respected and won a second chance after his awful collection for Givenchy in 1997, a huge mark of appreciation in such a famously cut-throat industry. His attitude to models differed to the usual fawning which many designers adopted. He had no interest in 'wining and dining' them, but instead "he loved to get them out of their comfort zone", comments Oliveira-Salac.

His accomplishments are numerous, and quite rightly so. McQueen won British Designer of the Year four times between 1996 and 2003, in addition to being awarded a CBE and being named International Designer of the Year at the Council of Fashion Designer Awards.

Tributes for McQueen were present at the opening of London Fashion Week with guests having the opportunity to pin personalised messages to a board in Somerset House, the venue of London Fashion Week. At the end of the week, these will be compiled and given to McQueen's family.

McQueen's legacy lives on. The Gucci Group announced that the Alexander McQueen Empire would carry on, despite the death of its creative director and founder. This follows the same vein as McQueen hinted at in a now tragically ironic interview he gave to February's issue of Love magazine: "I want this to be a company that lives way beyond me." Despite his tragic death, McQueen will undoubtedly be seen in death as he was in life: an original, extremely talented designer.

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