Alexan­der McQueen: a trib­ute to the' wild bird' of fash­ion

Emirates Woman - - Contents - WORDS: NATALIE WESTERN OFF

Alexan­der McQueen was an east Lon­don bad boy turned good who lived a life that was noth­ing short of fas­ci­nat­ing. We re­mem­ber the man be­hind the head­lines by look­ing at his pow­er­fully en­dur­ing po­si­tion in the fash­ion world

With the newly re­leased McQueen doc­u­men­tary it felt nat­u­ral to pay homage to the most in­flu­en­tial de­signer of the 21st cen­tury. From hum­ble begin­nings, Lee Alexan­der McQueen was born on a coun­cil es­tate (so­cial hous­ing) in the east end of Lon­don. He was more likely to be­come a cab driver, like his fa­ther, yet he be­came the most cel­e­brated fash­ion de­signer Bri­tain had ever wit­nessed rise to fame.

A young McQueen was a Sav­ille Row ap­pren­tice at the age of six­teen. He had a nat­u­ral in­stinct for draw­ing clothes and had been do­ing so since the ten­der age of three. McQueen’s am­bi­tion to be­come a fash­ion de­signer was en­cour­aged by his mum, Joyce, who al­ways be­lieved “Lee was dif­fer­ent”. En­ter­ing the fash­ion in­dus­try in the 90s as a work­ing class east Lon­doner was as painstak­ing as break­ing a mir­ror and earn­ing your­self seven years of bad luck, yet some­how McQueen man­aged to do so with­out pre­tend­ing to be any­thing other than what he was. Nick­named ‘the yob with a nee­dle’ and ‘the hooli­gan of fash­ion’ he soon built a rep­u­ta­tion for him­self but McQueen wasn’t both­ered with the clichés of fash­ion and prided him­self in be­ing hon­est. He was there to change the way peo­ple viewed the in­dus­try and true to his own words: “when I’m dead and gone, peo­ple will know that the 21st cen­tury was started by Alexan­der McQueen.”

McQueen’s suf­fer­ing be­gan when he was only nine-years-old, a time in his life when he wit­nessed a num­ber of vi­o­lent con­fronta­tions in his sis­ter’s mar­riage; sadly, he too lived through her abu­sive re­la­tion­ship. This ex­pe­ri­ence shaped his be­lief of what it meant to be a wo­man; a some­what Bell Jar view, to McQueen, it meant suf­fer­ing, pain, en­trap­ment and dark­ness. Later on these were the very themes that he ex­plored in his work. McQueen’s show­man­ship be­came a plat­form to ex­press the mor­bid ex­pe­ri­ences of his child­hood. He wanted to shock spec­ta­tors that came to watch. “I don’t want to do a show feel­ing like you just had Sun­day lunch. I want you to feel re­pulsed or ex­hil­a­rated.” In A/W95 his in­fa­mous col­lec­tion: High­land Rape re­ceived neg­a­tive press, mod­els came down the cat­walk look­ing as though they had been at­tacked, de­based and bru­talised. McQueen was ac­cused of be­ing “misog­y­nis­tic”, “lewd” and “sadis­tic”. De­spite the neg­a­tive press McQueen was canny and the con­stant con­tro­versy kept the press turn­ing up to see what else he had be­hind the cur­tain.

It is im­pos­si­ble to hon­our Alexan­der McQueen’s ca­reer with­out men­tion­ing the late Is­abella Blow. Ap­pointed as Bri­tish Vogue’s fash­ion edi­tor, she found her­self sit­ting in the au­di­ence at McQueen’s 1992 MA grad­u­ate show: Jack the Rip­per Stalks His Vic­tims. It has been doc­u­mented that Is­abella ‘dis­cov­ered’ McQueen at his MA show and bought the en­tire grad­u­ate col­lec­tion. Blow in­stantly fell in love with his de­signs and be­came McQueen’s ad­vo­cate, declar­ing him “the wild bird of fash­ion” and com­par­ing him to the likes of Andy Warhol. McQueen, tired of their close­ness, dis­tanced him­self from Is­abella in an ex­tremely pub­lic fall out. Al­though they still kept in touch, their re­la­tion­ship soured as he be­came the for­mi­da­ble Alexan­der McQueen. Ashamed of her lack of rel­e­vance in the fash­ion in­dus­try and in­ca­pable of keep­ing a job, Is­abella Blow com­mit­ted sui­cide in 2007.

McQueen’s rags-to-riches nar­ra­tive fu­eled much cu­rios­ity into the de­signer’s per­sonal life. Grow­ing up on an es­tate gave him a level of au­then­tic­ity that other de­sign­ers just did not have. He had grown up in Lon­don and ex­pe­ri­enced it for what it re­ally was: gritty, en­er­getic, real and some­times in­tim­i­dat­ing. De­spite Kate Moss and Naomi Camp­bell be­ing a part of his cir­cle, he no­to­ri­ously spoke out about how “fake” the in­dus­try was. It was his can­did­ness that at­tracted peo­ple to him as well as his abil­ity to evoke emo­tions through fash­ion per­for­mance. Fash­ion be­fore McQueen had been women in pretty dresses where pol­i­tics and fem­i­nism had no place. McQueen dis­rupted the in­dus­try giv­ing a voice to em­power women as he ex­plored the in­ner work­ings of his some­times twisted mind. In 1996 McQueen won the Bri­tish Fash­ion Award’s Bri­tish De­signer of the Year and went on to re­ceive the award on three sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions, in­clud­ing re­ceiv­ing a CBE from The Queen for his con­tri­bu­tions to the fash­ion in­dus­try. His vast in­flu­ences to the in­dus­try knew no bounds and he be­came an in­ter­na­tional t rea sure.Mc Queen no­tably ref­er­enced Mid­dle East­ern cul­ture in his S/S00 show, Eye – since then his cloth­ing have been re­ceived with ap­peal in the United Arab Emi­rates. So much so that Sarah Burton, creative direc­tor and friend to McQueen con­cep­tu­alised the largest stand-alone bou­tique in the re­gion which houses his beau­ti­ful col­lec­tions that con­tinue to live on un­der the Alexan­der McQueen brand.

Be­hind all his suc­cess was a man who had been deal­ing with pro­found melan­choly. In Fe­bru­ary of 2010 shock waves were sent through the fash­ion in­dus­try with his un­timely sui­cide. Alexan­dra Shul­man, the late edi­tor-in-chief at Bri­tish Vogue poignantly de­scribed the loss of such a re­mark­able per­son “His death is the hugest loss to any­one who knew him and for very many who didn’t.” McQueen cul­ti­vated his own sil­hou­ette and left the world with his legacy, sub­ver­sive art and lim­it­less per­for­mance; McQueen will be eter­nally revered as the great­est fash­ion de­signer this cen­tury will ever pay trib­ute to.

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