Lee McQueen’s friends speak about his final days

06 April 2010

Some of those closest to the late designer Lee McQueen (Alexander) have spoken to venerated NY fashion journalist Cathy Horyn about the events before and after McQueen’s shocking suicide in February this year.

His best friend, jeweller Shaun Leane who made metal corsets and sculptural pieces for McQueen’s shows, is quoted as being convinced at first that McQueen’s housekeeper had made a mistake when she raised the alarm that morning, thinking “It’s just a scare. He’s going to be all right.”

Mr Leane, who had known McQueen for 20 years, and had been on a night out with him only a fortnight before his death, also said he knew in a sick wave of fear that it was true. “As we walked toward the house there’s a part of you that doesn’t want to walk any further,” he said. “The ambulance and the police were there. It just shocked us. Then the family came. It was one of the saddest days of my life.”

Lee’s longstanding colleagues Trino Verkade, who ran his studio, and Sarah Burton, his design assistant, were both considered as close friends by the designer, and were with Shaun Leane that day. They too have gone on record about their shock at the news.

Ms. Verkade said: “he was somebody who talked about the future all the time. He was in the office talking about the show, the music, booking a holiday.”

Part of McQueen’s modus operandi was to travel in order to get inspiration for the collections. He and Leane once travelled to India, from which came the jewel-like ‘Girl Who Lived in The Tree’ collection.

Sarah Burton recalls their working together on what was to become his final collection – with the theme of 'Angels and Demons' using paintings from the Dark Ages, “he cut every single pattern himself and I think in a way it made him modern. He believed in authenticity. And I think he felt if he didn’t cut those patterns himself then he wouldn’t know how these new fabrics he had would drape and fall.”

His friends are still stunned by what happened; socialite Daphne Guinness recalled the scene in his Paris hotel room in October, when friends gathered after his remarkable show: “I had never seen him happier or so full of ideas. It was a really kind of sedate, wonderful evening.”

All his friends were aware of his melancholy side and his dark moments, though Miss Guinness doesn’t try to explain away his suicide. “I really thought he had turned a lot of corners,” she said, adding, “Maybe it was suddenly like he had turned so many corners that the blackness came back tenfold.”

Annabelle Neilson, with whom he was planning his next trip has spoken out about their close relationship -  “I was sort of married to a gay man.” Adding, “the bubble we lived in really didn’t allow a lot inside it”. Lee had celebrated their bond by having two pieces of jewellery made, in the shape of an L and an A, in diamonds with a single black stone indicating a black heart.

McQueen’s suicide has naturally provoked much speculation as to the reasons for the designer taking his own life, but his friends cited factors such as the death of his mother only two weeks earlier (his body was found on the morning of her funeral), the suicide of his friend and mentor Issy Blow, 2 years before, pressures of work and the news that one of beloved dogs was dying too.

Miss Horyn quotes the designer himself, as he expressed his unsuitability as a candidate for professional help - . “God, I don’t think a therapist could handle me,”

All his friends said he refused or shrugged off any suggestion he should seek psychiatric help. Shaun concluded saying, “Lee always believed he could do anything on his own.”


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