Immaculately tailored suits, architectural dresses and jackets that seem to be both of soft material and hard structure at once, room-clearing ball gowns and the most fluid and floaty of chiffon and silk evening dresses were just a few of his calling cards. His style was a distinctive mix of romance and menace.
The hair, makeup and production values of his shows had more in common with couture than ready to wear and they were the most anticipated fashion event on the show schedule, where he monopolised press coverage, providing a dose of shock and awe to the seen-it-all-before fashion pack.
McQueen’s many catwalk stunts included sending the models to walk through a rainstorm, or appearing on a catwalk ringed with flames, on one memorable occasion, model Shalom Harlow stood fixed to the spot on a revolving platform, while robots hired from a car factory sprayed jets of paint straight onto her virgin-white dress.
Most usually described as a ‘Visionary’ ‘Genius’ and always, always ‘Enfant terrible’ Mr McQueen was however, quickly accepted into the fashion establishment, having left his enfant phase behind, at least in terms of age and experience.
Lee Alexander McQueen was the youngest of six children, brought up in the East End of London and obsessed by fashion his entire childhood. After leaving school at 16, he worked as an apprentice tailor on Savile Row, home of bespoke men’s tailoring for several years. He also created clothes for theatrical costumiers Angels and Berman’s. Only after this practical education in the construction of clothes did McQueen move into fashion design, firstly working for designer Koji Tatsuno, then Romeo Gigli in Milan. He eventually found his way to to Central Saint Martins, by this time aged 21, to undertake an MA in fashion design.
His graduate collection from Central St Martins was bought by legendary stylist and fashion muse, Isabella Blow, who continued to support and mentor him for the rest of her life. He launched his own label straight away and began building his reputation for uncompromising design and mind-blowing theatrics at his shows. After only eight collections under his belt he was head-hunted to take up the head job at Givenchy, including designing its haute couture and ready-to-wear collections.
McQueen preferred being his own boss, however and when a deal from Gucci (under Tom Ford’s direction, the company bought a 51% stake in McQueen’s label) gave him the financial stability to leave the French couture house to concentrate on his own line, he did exactly that. There is now a diffusion line, McQ, offering rock’n’roll skinny jeans and embellished leggings for a younger customer on a tighter budget.
McQueen also designed menswear, beautifully-romantic bridalwear and fragrance, admitting in an interview “A collection is two-thirds artistic, one-third business. But I always remember that it’s the fantasy, the artistic side, that makes customers want to buy the straightforward black pants that put the money in the bank”.
His death at the age of 40 today has robbed the fashion world of a creative talent that defined the modern fashion scene and re-established London as the forefront for innovative design.