A frenetic London Fashion Week paused on Monday to remember one of the greatest design talents to grace the catwalks, the late Lee Alexander McQueen, at a memorial service. It was an honour to be invited.
Model Stella Tennant, designer Pam Hogg and journalist Jefferson Hack were among the first to arrive outside St Paul’s Cathedral ahead of the 11am service. And then the trickle of mourners joined them, a wonderfully eclectic mix of East End club kids and burley shaven-headed men, glamorous corseted women and fresh-faced girls, all of whom looked superbly exotic as the suit-clad City commuters hurried by.
As the congregation filed into St Paul’s, clutching their russet and gold invitations, most were dressed in ebony McQueen creations, and a contradicting sense of deep sorrow and of occasion was palpable.
US Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, high-profile friends including models Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, as well as industry figures and members of the press filled the cathedral, alongside the designer’s family and friends.
The mix of mourners in the majestic surroundings of St Paul’s - the place Suzy Menkes, fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, said would have been McQueen’s “ultimate venue” - reflected the different worlds he occupied, from the East End to the high-end fashion world he worked in. Like he transcended worlds, so his designs transcended fashion.
But then that was McQueen. His was a life “lived in the public gaze, but it was as vulnerable and retiring as it was glamorous” said the Reverend Canon Giles Fraser. “We give thanks for his loyal and challenging nature.”
McQueen’s nephew Mark led the readings, followed by an address by Wintour. “There was no comfort zone with Alexander McQueen,” she began, in crystal clear tones, before recalling the inspired designs created by the “complex and gifted young man”.
Some knew him well, others not so, and I not at all, but tears fell as his friend Shaun Leane recalled McQueen’s sharp tongue, filthy laugh, elephant-like memory and piercing blue eyes.
And then there was amazement as Icelandic singer Bjork, dressed in a wooden angel McQueen outfit, hit the first haunting note of the Billie Holiday song Gloomy Sunday, as her voice reverberated around the Cathedral.
The service ended with Scottish pipers leading out the congregation to the Braveheart pipe motif, a nod to McQueen’s Scottish heritage.
“It was fitting and moving,” said a sombre Harold Tillman, chairman of the British Fashion Council on the steps outside of the cathedral, where mourners stood listening as the pipes died down, while the waiting paparazzi and public onlookers took in every tear and every move made by the illustrious congregation.
Joan Burstein, co-founder of London designer indie Browns, added later that day: “It was so emotional. It was exquisitely done - he would have loved it.”
After the service it was back to the London Fashion Week schedule with a heavy heart and a sense of disappointment in knowing it would be unlikely that any of the collections we were to see that day would live up to anything McQueen had created.