Saturday, 13 February 2010

Ode to Alexander McQueen (17 March 1969 - 11 February 2010)

Alexander McQueen in 2005. Image courtesy of The Guardian, photographed by Martin Godwin
Like all his fans around the world yesterday, I too was both shocked and devastated when I first heard the breaking news that the British fashion designer Alexander Lee McQueen had been found dead at his Green Park home; just weeks before he was due to present his eagerly anticipated AW10 collection at Paris Fashion Week.

Late yesterday afternoon when an official statement from his company was released to the media any distant hopes we may have had of it being just another vicious internet rumour were quashed: “On behalf of Lee McQueen’s family, Alexander McQueen today announces the tragic news that Lee McQueen, the founder and designer of the Alexander McQueen brand has been found dead at his home,” his office announced. “At this stage it is inappropriate to comment on this tragic news beyond saying that we are devastated and are sharing a sense of shock and grief with Lee’s family.”
AW09‘The Horn of plenty’
As one of the most renowned, prolific and highly regarded designers of our generation it goes without saying that this tragic loss has saddened and shaken the entire fashion industry to the core, and has somewhat inadvertently dampened the festivities of New York Fashion Week - currently taking place in Bryant Park - with many top editors hoping to leave NYFW for LFW as soon as possible to pay tribute to the London-born designer.

Alexander McQueen and Isabella Blow photographed by David Lachapelle
Known best for his innovative pattern cutting skills, sharp tailoring, spectacular fashion shows – and most importantly taking risks - McQueen has achieved a lot beyond his 40 years, building up an iconic brand identity that helped to redefine the constraints and ideals of fashion since he was plucked from obscurity by influential fashion director and good friend; the late fashion icon Isabella Blow, whom bought his entire graduate collection back in 1994.
                                                       AW05 'Highland Rape'                                                      SS08 'The return of the mankini'
More than ‘just a fashion designer’, McQueen’s work transcended the intangible boundary between fashion and art, with every aspect of his work exploring the darker side of human existence, with his work systematically asking why fashion couldn't be an emotional experience in addition to a medium for sartorial expression. With each of his shows the audience never knew what to expect having seen everything from his 1996 ‘Highland Rape’ show which symbolised England’s rape of Scotland to his more recent ‘Borat’ tribute in 2008; McQueen became known notorious for presenting fashion as a lavish, eyebrow-raising spectacle, in a fashion never before seen on the London catwalk.

As an instinctive designer McQueen was prepared to endlessly take risks and suffer the consequences in the name of experimentation. Fuelled by a relentless creative fire and charged by his uncompromising vision, McQueen’s body of work transcends many classifications and genres from video and film to music and sport. Not undertaking any projects in which he couldn’t already envisage the end result, McQueen’s bold and confident approach to design was unique, as was his clear passion and drive to continually (in his own words) “...better myself. I’m looking for that pinnacle in my life. My career highs, which I don't think I've achieved yet...”
Image courtesy of SHOWstudio
Aside from his beautiful clothing ranges some of my most-loved works of McQueen’s have been born from collaborations with photographer Nick Knight for his online platform SHOWStudio, my favourite of which being the 2002 project Transformer: The Bridegroom Stripped Bare – recently exhibited in the SHOWstudio: Fashion Revolution retrospective at Somerset House. The Bridegroom Stripped Bare is a short film which depicts Alexander McQueen at his exuberant best as he transforms a bridegroom into a bride in a frenzy of cutting, ripping, painting and gaffer-taping – playing upon his notoriously deft cutting and draping skills. Comprising of just one performance of the sixteen part Transformer series - filmed and broadcast live over a two-day period - this film offers a rare glimpse of the designer at work, enabling us to interact with the designer in his most intense and creative moments revealing the working methodologies behind his design practice.

SS10, ‘Plato’s Atlantis’
McQueen’s most recent fashion collection for SS10, currently in stores - which on the catwalk featured alien-inspired make-up and garments awash with reptilian prints (and who can forget the ‘Armadillo’ seven inch shoes) - was lauded as his best yet by the majority of fashion press in attendance, with Selfridges buying director Anita Barr telling VOGUE.COM she believed it would be the department store's "best selling collection ever"– which mournfully now looks set to become fact, amid fresh reports today claiming sales have rocketed in the hours since his death.

Treasured by both fans and industry insiders alike, tributes having been pouring in consistently since the news broke from many of McQueen’s former colleagues and contemporaries with UK Vogue editor-in-chief Alexandra Shulman being among the first: "Lee McQueen influenced a whole generation of designers. His brilliant imagination knew no bounds as he conjured up collection after collection of extraordinary designs. At one level he was a master of the fantastic, creating astounding fashion shows that mixed design, technology and performance and on another he was a modern day genius whose gothic aesthetic was adopted by women the world over. His death is the hugest loss to anyone who knew him and for very many who didn't."

SS10 ‘Plato’s Atlantis’ campaign image
A usually tight-lipped Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of US Vogue also passed comment: "He brought a uniquely British sense of daring and aesthetic fearlessness to the global stage of fashion. In such a short career, Alexander McQueen’s influence was astonishing – from street style, to music culture and the world’s museums. His passing marks an insurmountable loss."

Harold Tillman, current chairman of the British Fashion Council, told Drapers magazine: “We are deeply saddened at the news of Alexander McQueen’s untimely death. He was a unique talent and one of the world’s greatest designers. Our thoughts are with his friends and family at this sad time.”

Several high profile fashion designers also spoke out on their shock and grief. Sir Paul Smith said: “Obviously, like everyone, I am extremely shocked at this sad news. I have known Lee since his time at Central Saint Martins and gave him advice in the early part of his career. He was a very talented and creative designer, especially in respect of his tailored clothing. This is a very sad time and my thoughts are with his family.”
Alexander McQueen Aw09. Image courtesy of Pascal Rossignol/Reuters
Rather controversially head designer at Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld said: "I found his work very interesting and never banal. There was always some attraction to death, his designs were sometimes dehumanised. Who knows, perhaps after flirting with death too often, death attracts you.”

Alexander Lee McQueen leaves behind not only his loving family and husband, George but also a colossal legacy that can never be undone, that will stay with all of us in our wardrobes and hearts forever. A true visionary, whose legendary status, can only be but cemented in death, McQueen will go on to inspire future generations of designers. Whilst the future of his label is as yet unclear, from the breadth of tributes across so many industries it is clear just how many lives his creativity touched and he will never be forgotten.
SS08 'Butterfly' Image courtesy of Getty Images
Of his work McQueen said: "When people recognise and respect what you do, that's nice, but I don't think you ever do this to be famous. Fame should be left to the film stars. We're just offering a service."

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