Alexander McQueen – fashion hooligan, savage beauty
A relative youngster in the fashion industry, Alexander McQueen was founded in 1992 by fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen.
Famous for controversial collections and unconventional shows, McQueen has become renowned for cutting edge British fashion.
From the start, controversy followed the brand at every turn. From the barely decent ‘bumster’ trousers to the impossibly tall armadillo shoes that models refused to wear, Alexander McQueen made a name for himself as ‘the hooligan of English fashion’.
Central to McQueen’s designs was the juxtaposition between opposing forces – fragility and strength, fluidity and severity – and this was evident throughout his collections. His sharp tailoring and fine workmanship earned him the accolade of ‘British Designer of the Year’ four times, setting him in history as one of the youngest designers to achieve the title.
Iconic, dark, daring
Alexander McQueen loved to stage unconventional and shocking catwalk shows. Appointed as head designer at Givenchy in 1996, he sent a double amputee down the runway with intricately carved wooden legs. Fall 1998 closed with a model trapped in a ring of fire, spring 2005 saw a human chess game, and in 2001, McQueen’s most celebrated show, Voss, featured an enormous glass box filled with moths and a naked model, her face obscured by a gas mask. The box was placed inside a room with two-way mirrors, padded like an asylum and lit from the inside, so it reflected the faces of the fashion industry’s finest, watching from the outside. McQueen left them for over an hour staring at their own reflections, before reversing the lighting to reveal the interior of the room and the models inside, then letting the walls of the box fall away, smashing into the ‘asylum’. It was said that this was one of the best pieces of Fashion Theatre ever witnessed, and placed McQueen at the top of his game.
Celebrities adore the edgy brand. From Gwyneth Paltrow to Sarah Jessica Parker, fashion fans have fallen over themselves for a piece of Alexander McQueen. Lady Gaga adopted the controversial armadillo shoes, featuring them in her music video for Bad Romance. McQueen even designed the wardrobe for David Bowie’s 1996 tour as well as the Union Jack coat worn on his 1997 album, Earthling.
McQueen’s death and unfinished collection
In a tragic turn of events, Lee Alexander McQueen took his own life in 2010. Although holding debts of £32million at the time of his death, the brand lives on, under close supervision of new creative director Sarah Burton, McQueen’s right hand design aide.
His last collection, eighty percent complete at the time of his death, was showcased during Paris Fashion Week 2010 in a gorgeous mirrored and gilded salon in an 18th Century Parisienne hotel.
The legacy lives on
Since the death of its founder, Alexander McQueen has maintained its rightful place as the pinnacle of edgy British design. Burton won the Designer of the Year 2011 at the British Fashion Wards, as well as designing the now iconic wedding gown of the Duchess of Cambridge. Her Royal Highness also chose Alexander McQueen for her cream outfit at the christening of Princess Charlotte.
Lawsuits and controversy aside, the brand still creates fierce emotion from its devotees. It currently holds 39 stand alone retail stores and 11 additional department store boutiques. Its lower-priced line, McQ also has a standalone boutique in London.
Lee McQueen’s legacy lives on. An exhibition of his work, Savage Beauty, was featured at the V&A in 2015 and the brand’s continuing men and womenswear catwalk collections feature strong McQueen trademarks and ideas. There can be no doubt that Lee Alexander McQueen lives on through the designs of the brand he created.