If there’s one designer who is known for the shock value of his creations, it must be Alexander McQueen. The British designer known as the “Fashion Rebel” was a man with a vision, someone who has always articulated design way beyond his time. He had a meteoric rise to fame, and his legacy continues after his passing with an infinitely futuristic and stylish label.
Born in 1969 into a family with 6 kids, McQueen was the youngest child. “Lee”, as he was fondly called by his family and friends, found his passion in making dresses for his older sisters. While the school years were about realizing and understanding his sexuality, it wasn’t an easy time for him.
He got a Master’s degree in Fashion Designing and later started working with designer Koji Tatsuno. McQueen’s big break was in 1992 when his entire student collection, inspired by Jack the Ripper was purchased by a renowned stylist. Isabella Blow proved to be a mentor for him, who also persuaded him to adopt his first name Alexander McQueen for the label as opposed to his pet name Lee.
With only four years of real world fashion experience, McQueen got the prestigious and enviable position as the Chief Designer of Givenchy, owned by Louis Vuitton. McQueen was there from 1996 to 2001. This epoch saw some obscenely crazy and controversial creations from the master designer himself. When Gucci bought a major stake in McQueen’s private company in 2000, he got the chance to accelerate his dream of expanding his own business.
McQueen won the British Designer of the Year four times between 1996 and 2003, amidst other laurels. By the end of year 2007, his label had boutiques all over the world and he had the company of many celebrity patrons. There was no looking back for him as his popularity grew by bounds and so did his notoriety. He had an extreme sense of fashion and style, which reflected in all his creations. There are quite a few noteworthy ways in which McQueen redefined fashion.
One motif that stood out in McQueen’s designs was the skull print. This design was featured on a lot of his merchandise. From scarves to shirts and even shoes, the skull was transported from the Fashion ramp to the High Street, and celebrities all around the world were seen sporting it. From Johnny Depp to Cameron Diaz and Lindsay Lohan – men and women were going crazy about this dark, sinister look. This soon became a rage, and continues to be even today. The McQueen skull scarf and clutch bag became coveted accessories, which gained immense popularity that has still not subsided today.
Low-rise Pants or “Bumsters”
McQueen also garnered a lot of success from his “Bumster” pants, which made an appearance in 1996. These were called so for having an extremely low-cut waistline. With the then trend for high-waist pants and jeans, the low-cut shorts made a statement bolder than anything of that era. Now it might not shock anyone to see someone sport crevice-revealing pants, but when Alexander McQueen’s models strutted down wearing his “Bumsters”, they garnered a lot of criticism.
His designs pushed the limits of fashion, not only with his creations, but his fashion shows as well. McQueen was known for his lavish, larger-than-life and unconventional runway shows. He once had an imitation shipwreck as his ramp prop, one with a human chess game, and of course the one featuring a life-sized hologram of Kate Moss, dressed in flowing fabric.
At a time when models who walked the ramp fit a certain norm, McQueen broke the rules there too. These days it’s not rare to see someone plus-sized walking the ramp, but McQueen dared to be different back in the 2000s. From having a double amputee model with carved prosthetic wooden legs strutting in his creation to being one of the first designers to use nude and Indian models on the ramp, he was doing it way before anyone else did, but in his case, it became a point of curiosity, and at times, controversy.
Alexander McQueen garnered a lot of attention for his stormy relationship with Isabella Blow, English Magazine Editor, who was also credited with discovering McQueen. Blow picked up Alexander McQueen from obscurity and helped him become a star. After a bumpy relationship, when McQueen sold his brand to Gucci, he didn’t take Blow along, and she was sidelined when everyone else associated with the brand was offered contracts. In May 2007, when Isabella Blow was surrounded with several health issues and financial crisis, she committed suicide. Three years later, just days after his mother passed away, Alexander McQueen committed suicide at his house in Mayfair, Central London.
McQueen was known for the shock and awe on the ramp and off it. This love of drama and the theatrics of it all is well known. He created art and people greatly enjoyed witnessing it. McQueen’s meteoric rise is quite a remarkable story and an inspiration for many.