Published on February 28, 2013 | by Lorelei Watt

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McQueen: Legacy of a Fashion Maverick

Alexander McQueen, CSM graduate was groundbreaking in his designs [Flickr: victorismaelsoto]

It has been three years since Alexander McQueen took his own life. A tragedy for the world of fashion, McQueen left his well-tailored mark on an industry which nets nearly £21 billion for the country each year and a brand which was responsible for designing one of the most famous dresses in the world, Kate Middleton’s wedding dress.

Born Lee Alexander McQueen in Lewisham, South London, he showed talent from an early age, being offered an apprenticeship to the Savile Row tailors Anderson and Sheppard, and then at Gieves and Hawkes at the age of 16.

It was here that he learnt the tailoring skills that would mark him out among other designers of his day.

Speaking of McQueen’s death to the Telegraph, editor-in-chief of Vogue Anna Wintour said that ‘in such a short career, Alexander McQueen’s influence was astonishing – from street style, to music culture and the world’s museums.’

Cutter

His decision to apply for a job in Central Saint Martins College, as a pattern cutter tutor, propelled McQueen into fashion stardom. Given the strength of McQueen’s portfolio of work, he was persuaded to enroll in the college as a student.

McQueen received his Master’s degree and was widely applauded at his degree show. The CSM degree shows are a calendar event in the fashion year and many designers get their big break at these shows.

McQueen’s whole graduation collection was bought in its entirety by the highly influential fashion stylist Isabella Blow (who would later also commit suicide).

“In such a short career, Alexander McQueen’s influence was astonishing” – Anna Wintour, Editor-in-chief of Vogue

McQueen exploded onto the fashion scene with his trademark shock style; one of his shows was entitled ‘Highland Rape’ and he soon became the enfant terrible of the couture world.

Alexander McQueen became known for his theatrical catwalk shows as much as his designs. The most famous show, the spring/summer 2001 entitled ‘VOSS’ featured a vast glass box filled with moths.

Legacies

One of McQueen’s many legacies was perhaps his influence on turning catwalk shows, and fashion in general, into theatre. Gothic director Tim Burton even collaborated with him on drawings for his shows, as well as designing a shirt together.

McQueen’s designs were known for their ability to juxtapose fragility and strength. Anyone who has ever worn a leather jacket with a flowery dress owes a little something to McQueen. While his shows and designs were avant-garde, he left a legacy of good workmanship and knowledge of the heritage of British crafts.

Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer collection 2012 [courtesy of Alexander McQueen Facebook]

The daring designer never shied away from controversy. He bemoaned his own collection at Givenchy and used double amputee model Aimee Mullins in one of his catwalk shows.

Iconic skull

Skulls and the darker side of life were a recurring motif in his designs with his now iconic skull scarf gracing the necks of celebrities the world over. After his death, sales of his line at Liberty’s, with his skull scarf being the most popular, went up by 1400%.

Speaking to the Telegraph, Karl Lagerfeld said of McQueen: ‘There was always a bit of an attraction to death, it was a bit dehumanized […] Who knows, perhaps by constantly flirting with death, death ends up attracting you.’ McQueen was fascinated with the human body and chose clothes to highlight it.

Tim Blanks, speaking to style.com, admitted that McQueen’s ‘ability to dissect the human form could have given Jack the Ripper a run for his lunch money.’

As well as commercial success and influence with his label, McQueen won British Designer of the Year four times as well as many other awards.

Awards

Becoming a CBE in 2003; he also was awarded the International Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designer’s of America. Alexander McQueen also had a strong background in menswear and as such was given the GQ Menswear Designer of the Year in 2007.

McQueen was well known for his collaborations with celebrities. He was perhaps one of the first designers to place famous people in his works in order to publicise the spectacle in his own fashion.

There was always a bit of an attraction to death, it was a bit dehumanized” –  Karl Lagerfeld, creative director of Chanel

McQueen worked extensively with Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell and Bjork – who sang Gloomy Sunday at his funeral.

Lady Gaga also wore his famously un-wearable ‘armadillo’ shoes in her 2009 Bad Romance video and dedicated Fashion of His Love to McQueen.

Along with this friendship with those in the public eye was his ability to court controversy for his designs. Suzy Menkes, speaking at his funeral at St Pauls, called McQueen’s designs ‘…some of the most chillingly misogynistic footwear ever seen on the runway…but quite, quite beautiful.’

Creative direction

Alexander McQueen’s death was announced on February 11, 2010, the official verdict on his death was recorded as suicide, although he had drugs in his system. It had been just over a week since his beloved mother, Joyce, 75, had died from cancer.

A dress design by McQueen for the Spring/Summer 1998 collection [victorismaelsoto (Flickr)]

McQueen’s funeral was attended by the great and the good of the fashion world. Many thought that after his death the label would simply fail or lose the creative direction without its founder.

That was not to be the case. Sarah Burton, former number two at the company, took over the label and maintained the success of the fashion house.

She was even responsible for designing the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress, which harked back to certain elements of McQueen’s designs, fashionable but wearable.

Look powerful

McQueen said of his clothes in an interview that: “When you see a woman wearing McQueen, there is a certain hardness to the clothes that makes her look powerful. It kind of fends people off. You have to have a lot of balls to talk to a woman wearing my clothes.”

Three years after his death McQueen is still as relevant in the fashion world as he was when he was alive.

His influence can be seen in everything from the patterns that other designers use, the transitioning of catwalk shoes to theatre, to the woman on the street who has decided to wear a pair of studded boots with a flowing maxi dress.

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