The life and rise of legendary designer Alexander McQueen, who would have been 51 today

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Alexander McQueen. It’s a name that rarely needs introduction.

The late designer is often regarded as one of the most influential and innovative designers of all time. Whether one remembers his 1999 Spring/Summer show, which saw a model in a white dress on a revolving runway being sprayed with red paint guns, or some of his lavish, extravagant gowns that have stormed the fashion stages, you know his name, and you know it well.

McQueen started his career as a tailor before going on to launch his eponymous line in 1992. After a five-year stint as the creative director of Givenchy, he returned his focus to his own label in 2001 and sold a 51% stake in it to the Gucci Group (now called Kering, one of the world’s largest luxury conglomerates). The partnership helped him expand to fashion capitals such as Milan and New York, taking his brand worldwide.

Throughout his life, McQueen was known by many nicknames, including “l’enfant terrible,” like his contemporary Jean-Paul Gaultier, or “the hooligan of English Fashion” because of his rebellious nature. But even among his critics, he was always noted as being talented, innovative, and one of the best in his craft.

Tragically, McQueen died by suicide on February 11, 2010, only a few days after his mother passed away. When McQueen died, it was reported that he left behind £16 million ($US19.7 million), which he split between various charities, his family, employees, and his dogs.

Today, his label is led by McQueen’s long-time assistant,Sarah Burton, who, a year after McQueen’s death, went on to design the wedding dress Kate Middleton wore when she married Prince William.

Keep reading to look back at the illustrious and innovative life and career ofAlexander McQueen.


Today would have been Alexander McQueen’s 51st birthday.

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Tragically, he died by suicide at the age of 40 on February 11, 2010.


He is often regarded as one of the most innovative designers of all time. His namesake label, which is now run by his colleague Sarah Burton, is still regarded for its influence on the rest of the industry.

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Source:


Business Insider


McQueen was born Lee Alexander McQueen on March 17, 1969 in Lewisham, London. His father was a taxi driver, and his mother was a teacher. He was the youngest of six kids.

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McQueen often remarked that he was the “pink sheep” of the family, meaning that he was a misfit “but not rejected.”


Source:

BBC,The Guardian


His first job in fashion was as an apprentice at the tailoring company Anderson & Sheppard.

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After Anderson & Sheppard, he went on to work at Gives & Hawkes. As reported by the BBC, there’s an unverified rumour that, during his stint at one of the tailoring companies, McQueen wrote “McQueen was here” inside of a suit lining that belonged to Prince Charles.

He also went on to work for costumers Angels & Bermans, where he was able to work on a production of “Les Miserables.” He also briefly moved to Milan to work for Romeo Gigli as a pattern cuter. When he was 21, he returned to London.

His beginnings as a tailor helped earn him a reputation later on in fashion, where he became known for his finely tailored outfits.


Source:


The Guardian


McQueen graduated with an MA from Central Saint Martins College in 1992. The late fashion stylist Isabella Blow bought his entire graduation collection for £5,000 ($US6,200).

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McQueen helped pay for his school by taking a £4,000 ($US4,960) loan from his aunt.

During this same time, Isabella Blow would become one of the most influential figures in McQueen’s life. She is the one who reportedly told him to go by the name Alexander in the fashion industry, rather than his given first name, Lee.

Soon, McQueen became well known in the top fashion crowds.


Source:


BBC


In 1992, McQueen launched his eponymous line.

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Like his contemporary Jean-Paul Gaultier, McQueen was also known as “l’enfant terrible.

McQueen was particularly noted for his lavish runway shows. He also became known for his low cut trousers, known as “bumsters.”


Source:

BBC,The Guardian


From 1996 to 2001, he was the creative director of Givenchy.

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McQueen was appointed as creative director, but was not well-received at first. Some in the press even referred to him as “the hooligan of English Fashion,” according to the BBC.


Source:


BBC


But despite the critics, in 1996 — his first year at Givenchy — McQueen won British Designer of the Year. He would go on to win this award three more times throughout his career.

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He won British Designer of the Year four times total: in 1996, in 1997 (with John Galliano), in 2006, and 2001.


Source:


Vogue


McQueen eventually left in 2001. He said working at Givenchy had started to “constrain” him creatively.

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His unhappy time at Givenchy is well noted; he even famously sparred with the founders of the brand.

“I treated Givenchy badly. It was just money to me,” he reportedly said, according to The Guardian. “But there was nothing I could do: the only way it would have worked would have been if they had allowed me to change the whole concept of the house, to give it a new identity, and they never wanted me to do that. [Bernard] Arnault was never going to allow Givenchy to overshadow Dior; to him, Givenchy is just a perfume.”


One of the most famous McQueen symbols is a skull. He designed a skull scarf, which has since become one of the most iconic fashion accessories of all time.

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An actor wearing the famous skull-print Alexander McQueen scarf. Photo by Jon Furniss/Invision/AP)

McQueen was also known for his lavish runways. He was one of the first in fashion to implement technology into his shows and was known for being “rebellious” against fashion’s traditional aesthetic. As reported by The Guardian’s Jess Cartner-Morley, McQueen put on shows inspired by the films of Alfred Hitchcock, the book “Lord of the Flies,” and even psychiatric facilities.


Source:


The Guardian


In 1999, McQueen sent model Shalom Harlow in white dress which was then sprayed with red paint by two paint guns. It is one of the most famous images in all of fashion.

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‘A dress worn by model Shalom Harlow, who became became a human canvas at Alexander McQueen’s 13th fashion show in September 1998, as robotic arms spray painted her tulle dress.’ AP Photo/Alastair Grant

This Spring/Summer 1999 collection by McQueen created one of the most known images in all of fashion: Harlow in a white dress being sprayed with red paint as the runway rotates beneath her.


In 2000, McQueen entered a partnership which saw Gucci Group acquire 51% of his label. McQueen stayed on as creative director. Gucci Group itself was later acquired by — and is now known as — Kering, one of the largest luxury conglomerates in the world.

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This acquisition helped McQueen expand his brand across the globe; it opened stores in the fashion capitals of London, Milan, and New York, as well as in Los Angeles and Las Vegas.

2000 was also the year McQueen stopped showing in London; Gucci Group had his shows moved to Paris in its attempt to make McQueen’s label more of an “international brand.”


Source:


BBC,
The Guardian


That same year, McQueen married his partner George Forsyth in Ibiza. Their relationship ended shortly after.

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Kate Moss served as a bridesmaid.


Source:

BBC,The Guardian


In 2001, McQueen had another iconic runway moment: his Spring/Summer collection presentation named VOSS.

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A dress by Alexander McQueen from his ‘Voss’ 2001 Spring Summer collection at the Alexander McQueen exhibition ‘Savage Beauty’ in the Victoria and Albert museum in London. AP Photo/Alastair Grant

McQueen chose writer Michelle Olley to lead the show, which featured a giant glass box in the middle of the presentation. The room outside of the box was lit, while the room inside the box was not; therefore, the glass appeared to be mirrored, and the audience members could only see their own reflections.

Once the lights turned on, people could see that the inside of the box was filled with moths, and there was a naked model in the middle wearing a gas mask. Suddenly, the glass walls shattered and fell to the ground.

Patrick Ryan from USA Today reported that the piece was supposed to be a commentary on how McQueen felt while working at Givenchy – as if he were in a cage.


In 2003, McQueen won the CFDA Award for International Designer of the Year.

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That same year he was also appointed Commander (CBE) by the Queen of England. CBE is one of the orders of the British Empire, which rewards one’s contributions to the arts and sciences, in addition to work in public service.


Source:

Glamour,Vogue


In 2005, McQueen teamed up with Puma to release a line of shoes.

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Prince Charles (L) and Alexander McQueen (R) AP Photo/Sean Dempsey/Pool

Business Insider previously reported that McQueen’s partnership with Puma lasted more than a decade and that he was a noted “sneakerhead.” McQueen’s collection with Puma was one of the first high-profile collaborations between sportswear and luxury, which has now dominated the high-fashion market.


Source:
Business Insider


The following year, McQueen launched a more affordable line called McQ.

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As reported by Vogue’s Ella Alexander in 2010, the line was more youthful and “urban” than McQueen’s existing high-fashion line.


Source:


Vogue


In 2007, McQueen, along with several other designers, teamed up with MAC Cosmetics to create a collection.

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McQueen’s MAC collection was inspired by Elizabeth Taylor’s 1963 movie “Cleopatra.”

By the end of 2007, he was one of the most notable names in all of fashion and a favourite among the likes of Nicole Kidman and Sarah Jessica Parker.


Source:


Los Angeles Times


McQueen’s last fashion show appearance was in October 2009, at Paris Fashion Week. He showed his Spring/Summer 2010 collection.

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Source:


Vogue


A few days before London Fashion Week, on February 11, 2010, McQueen died by suicide. His mother had died just a few days earlier.

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Source:


Huffington Post


His final collection was shown as Paris Fashion Week. There were only 16 pieces, and it was only 80% complete.

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A look from McQueen’s Fall-Winter 2009-2010 collection, which was his final runway show appearance. AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

Sarah Mower, who reviewed McQueen’s final collection for Vogue, wrote at the time that “the circumstances, sad as they are, allowed his friends and colleagues to share a long and poignant moment to look at what the man achieved, and to grieve for him.”

As Business Insider previously reported, shortly after his death, McQueen’s assistant Sarah Burton was tapped as the new creative director of his brand. She presented her first collection later that year.


Source:
Vogue


McQueen’s funeral was held on February 25 in London, and his ashes were scattered in Scotland on May 29.

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Source:


Vogue


At the time, the BBC reported that McQueen left behind a £16 million ($US19.8 million) fortune, which was distributed amongst those he loved and cared for, including his dogs.

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The BBC reported that McQueen left £50,000 ($US61,734) to his pet dogs, £100,000 ($US123,339) each to a number of charities, and £50,000 to each of his housekeepers. His two brothers and three sisters each received £250,000 ($US308,34), while his godson, nieces and nephews each received £50,000.


Source:


BBC


The late McQueen is often regarded as one of the most influential designers in history. Many artists, including Lady Gaga, have paid tribute to the late designer.

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In 2018, the critically acclaimed documentary “McQueen” was released. It was described by Harper’s Bazaar’s Ella Alexander at the time as being “among the most accurate, sensitive, and moving” depictions of the designer.


In 2011, between May and August, the Met showed a posthumous exhibition of McQueen’s work. It was titled “Savage Beauty” and became one of the most popular exhibitions in the Met’s history.

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‘An ornate headdress on display at the Alexander McQueen exhibition ‘Savage Beauty’ at the Victoria and Albert museum in London,’ AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

The exhibition also travelled to London’s Victoria & Albert Museum between March and August 2015. It sold over 480,000 tickets there, and became one of the most popular exhibitions at that museum as well.

Source:Harper’s Bazaar, Vox, Met Museum