After seeing the brilliant McQueen documentary on Netflix, I fell in love with fashion all over again. Lee's genius is so mind blowing and infectious I had to share his story with you. #mcqueen #alexndermcqueen #mcq #fashion #designer #isabellablow #style #britishfashion #johngalliano #givenchy
Talk about a breath of fresh air for fashion, when McQueen came on the scene, everyone held their breaths either in shock or in utter amazement. But isn't that the whole point of fashion? To create a reaction? As Lee himself once said:
"After my show, I don't want you to feel like you just had a Sunday lunch. I either want you to come out feeling repulsive or exhilarated. If you leave without an emotion, I'm not doing my job properly."
He certainly is one to remember and it's very sad he left this world too soon, but sadly, most of the genius minds do.
To give you a bit of a background on Alexander McQueen, he came from East London and never really had much money to start with, which didn't seem to bother him much. He simply financed his earlier shows by being on benefits. It was obvious it's never been about money for him. He loved fashion so much he couldn't stop drawing dresses and outfits even as a kid. As he didn't do well in school and seeing his interest in fashion, his mum told him to get a job cutting suits at Saville Row, so he did. And guess what? He was great at it!
From there he went to Milan in 1989 and worked for Romeo Gigli (leading force in a new generation of fashion designers). The most important part being, that everywhere he went, he asked questions and always wanted to learn more, absorbing everything like a sponge.
With the financial help of his aunt, he enrolled into Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design and created one of the most breath taking graduate collections in the history of the College, inspired by Jack the Ripper. I think it goes without saying that the collection caused a major stir in the audience, where among others, Isabella Blow (well known in the fashion world not just as a magazine editor, but a keen eye for spotting young talent) jumped out of her seat and loved it so much, she insisted on buying every single piece.
Her and Lee became friends and she introduced him to literally everyone in the fashion industry. Alexander was her protégé. They spent time at the beautiful Hilles House and dressed in costumes for dinner, just for fun, as their imagination fuelled the way to creating further breathtaking collections for the house of McQueen. Which was interesting, considering Lee didn't make any money from his early collections. They were popular, but because they were so unique, most of the pieces couldn't even be reproduced.
"I really don't like the norm. You don't move forward if you play it safe."
Needless to say, everything else in fashion at this time paled in comparison. Early enough, Lee understood that fashion was about publicity and creativity, so as long as the show created buzz, it has served its purpose. I loved some of his early creations, like rolling a tire in white paint and then running it over a black dinner jacket. Everything inspired him. His artistic energy was out of this world!
1995: The McQueen controversy
The controversy didn't stop there. In 1995, the pieces in his new collection looked like something out of a crime scene. Lee got loads of backlash for it and critics called it shocking and distasteful. But it succeeded to attract publicity, which was the key. Lee later explained how he witnessed domestic violence as a kid, which had a profound effect on his mind and was the dark place, where this collection came from, so he wanted to show the women as strong warriors.
This was a major turning point, when Lee replaced John Galliano at Givenchy in Paris. He was the new talk of the town and it allowed him to financially support the McQueen brand, as he was working on both simultaneously. Which was, sadly enough, the beginning of his downfall, as more money meant more problems.
His first collection for Givenchy on 19th January 1997 was done in 25 days and consisted of 55 outfits. Lee was just 27 years old at the time. His inspiration came from the Givenchy logo, which reminded him of Greek mythology. Each outfit was so unique, it could have inspired a whole collection by itself and I personally absolutely loved it. The classy couture Parisians, not so much! It felt like the whole world was against him.
1997 - 2000: McQueen
Perhaps the fact that his start at Givenchy was criticised so heavily, it caused a ripple effect and made the McQueen collections even more rough and gritty. Each McQueen show was very intense: wonderful, mad and brilliant at the same time!
My favourite collection was #13 - with the arresting finale of robots vs a model (Shalom Harlow) and her white dress being spray painted live on stage by two robots. I don't even need to say more. Even Lee was so blown away it brought him to tears!
They told him it was impossible, but that's what Lee did for people, he made the impossible possible.
The trouble was, it got so hectic, Lee split his year in two and was spending 6 months in London and 6 months in Paris. Travelling and constant pressure at work took its toll. Close friends and family noticed and told him to take a year off, but he would never give the work up. As he said: you only get that one chance. But something had to give and it became bad when the pressure became too big.
2008: La Dame Bleue
The farewell collection to Isabella Blow. Lee and Philip Treacy (haute couture milliner) created a collection of breathtaking dresses and hats for Isabella Blow and they managed to create a mythical figure, it was a beauty beyond anything this world has ever seen!
2009: Plato's Atlantis
The show that changed the future of fashion - a mind blowing collection combining robots, models that looked like alien creatures and the newly discovered digital printing. Suzy Menkes described the show as the most dramatic revolution in 21st century fashion. Lee told his closest friends:
I've designed my last collection.
His mum just passed away and Lee committed suicide on the eve of his mum's funeral on 11th February 2010.