Alexander McQueen: We take a look back at the British Designer's crowning fashion moments
Alexander McQueen: We take a look back at the British Designer’s crowning fashion moments
A much-loved and much-celebrated member of the British style industry, Alexander McQueen was born in 1969 in the East End of London. He showed a passion for fashion from a young age, making dresses for his sisters, and launching straight into his chosen career at the age of 16, as an apprentice on Savile Row. After a brief stint pattern cutting in Milan, he returned to London and enrolled at Central Saint Martin’s. He graduated in 1992 with a collection entitled Jack the Ripper Stalking his Victims. The entire collection was bought by uber-stylist Isabella Blow, who quickly became his champion.
Favouring an aggressive, rebellious approach to design, one of his first defining collections came in 1995 instantly shooting him to the top of all ‘one to watch’ lists. The provocative Highland Rape collection featured a head-turning fusion of tattered dresses, bloodstained models and typically-daring sheer pieces – all inspired by his Scottish ancestry, and thrown together with remnants from fabric shops.
Just as women were embracing hipster trousers in 1995, the ever boundary-pushing McQueen urged them to go one-step further. Enter, the Bumsters. Lower than should be acceptable, the cheek-flashing waistline was in the style of a builders slouchy jeans but infinitely more stylish, naturally. An iconic McQueen look if ever there was one.
As everyone waited to see how he’d follow up the much-talked about Highland Rape collection, McQueen ensured he didn’t disappoint, with an equally mould-breaking show in 1996. To the surprise of his catwalk audience, his models splashed down a runway covered in water.
In 1996 Alexander McQueen became the youngest designer in history to win a British Designer of the Year Award, and would collect the title a further three times by 2003.
McQueen was named the successor to John Galliano as the head designer at Givenchy in 1996. He quickly earned the title ‘L’enfant terrible’ by promptly dismissing the labels founder, Hubert de Givenchy, as ‘irrelevant’. Despite initial collections gaining unfavourable reviews, McQueen would stay at the design house until 2001, when he left claiming the fashion house was ‘constraining his creativity’.
He caused controversy in autumn 1998 with a show which included double amputee model Aimee Mullins striding down the catwalk on intricately carved wooden legs. His use of the unconventional model was a feature that stayed with him throughout his career, part of his quest to constantly provoke thought and push boundaries.
As if his epic catwalk spectaculars couldn’t get any more unpredictable, McQueen had jaws hitting the floor once again during his Spring/Summer 1999 show. Model Shalom Harlow walked the runway at the beginning of the show in a plain white strapless gown – but for the finale was spray-painted live on stage, with machines taken from a car manufacturing plant.
The runway was transformed into a winter wonderland for Autumn/Winter 1999, as the models walked the catwalk surrounded by a magical blizzard of perspex snow.
Alexander McQueen was very friendly with Kate Moss: the two had had a longstanding working relationship but got on well together on a personal level too. McQueen demonstrated his support for Moss after a cocaine scandal, which hit British tabloids in 2005. Kate lost contracts with some big designer names, but Alexander McQueen strode out at the end of his fashion show wearing a T-shirt with the legend ‘We love you Kate’ emblazoned across the front.
Kate Moss was again the star of McQueen’s Autumn/Winter 2006 show – but she wasn’t there in person. The supermodel appeared as a huge ghostly hologram floating over the catwalk, much to the amazement of the audience.
One of his more wearable creations, McQueen’s skull-print scarves gained a cult following in 2006, being seen on everyone from Nicole Richie, to Naomi Campbell and Lindsay Lohan.
Following the death of Isabella Blow in May 2007, McQueen made his Spring/Summer 2008 collection a tribute to his friend and mentor. The invites to the show were poster-size illustrations depicting Isabella in a McQueen dress and Philip Treacy head piece, in a horse-drawn carriage ascending to heaven. If his audience were expecting a sombre, dark collection, they were, of course, sadly mistaken. A celebration of life, the catwalk was awash with bright colours and followed a bird theme, featuring highlights from throughout his career.
His designs were always interesting and experimental, and he played with textures and fabrics to create stunning sillhouettes. McQueen was also known for his pioneering work with prints, taking inspiration from the insect world for his Spring/Summer 2009 collection.
It’s possibly an understatement to say that his shows were never dull, and fashion journalists, stylists and magazine editors alike crammed in to get a good look at the designs they knew they’d be talking about in the coming months.
Many of the striking creations in his Autumn/Winter 2009 show made it seem more like a couture collection than a ready-to-wear.
His most recent Spring/Summer 2010 collection was entitled Plato’s Atlantis, and inspired by his vision of a future ecological meltdown. Always wanting to be the very first to experiment with the newest technologies and ideas, the show was streamed live across the internet in a real pioneering fashion moment.
Celebrities flocked to wear McQueen’s designs, with A-list fans ranging from Cate Blanchett to Rihanna, Anna Paquin, Cameron Diaz and Kate Bosworth to name merely a few. Many of these star muses also became friends of the designer, including Sarah Jessica Parker, who he accompanied to the Costume Institute Gala back in 2006. The suitably coordinating pair were both clad naturally in McQueen, with SJP rocking a tartan-bedecked tulle prom dress.
The designer used his extraordinary talents to create brilliant pieces that made an impact on everyone who saw them. Poster girl for the larger lady, Beth Ditto acted as something of a muse for McQueen throughout 2008.
A loyal McQueen devotee, SJP chose one of the designer’s flattering little numbers for the world premiere of the Sex and the City movie in London 2008. On hearing of his death, she commented: ‘I am shocked and overcome with grief upon learning about the untimely death of the quiet genius Alexander McQueen. God speed Lee. It has been a privilege for all of us to know you. You will be indescribably missed.’
Even Britain’s national treasure Cheryl Cole wowed photographers last year in a Alexander McQueen minidress. Thigh-skimming, with nothing but a smattering of fringing for a skirt, it was a great example of the cherished designer’s daring style. Paying tribute following his death, she said: ‘My heart goes out to Alexander’s family and friends at this unbelievably sad and tragic time. Fashion has lost one of its most talented and inspirational figures.’
McQueen counted among his fans such fashion luminaries as supermodel Naomi Campbell, who could often be seen sitting front row at his shows. ‘I am truly devastated to lose my close friend,’ she said following his death. ‘This is a sad day to all who loved him around the world and my condolences are with his family. I will miss him so much, he will never be forgotten.’
The original enfant terrible of fashion even had fashion’s latest darling designer Victoria Beckham under his thrall. Paying tribute, Mrs B wrote: ‘MCQueen was a master of fashion, creative genius and an inspiration. The fashion industry has lost a true great, an icon of all time. He made all he touched beautiful and will be desperately missed.’
Burlesque beauty Dita Von Teese is another firm fan of McQueen’s designs, often donning his sculptural, figure-flattering creations. ‘Rest in peace, Mr. McQueen,’ she posted on her Twitter page following the tragic news of his passing.