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Obituary: Alexander McQueen

Born Lee Alexander McQueen, 17 March 1969 - 11 February 2010.

Early career

Born in London’s East End, the son of a taxi driver the late Lee Alexander McQueen’s inimitable and ground-breaking style set him apart from his fashion pack peers and saw the designer put British fashion on the global stage.

The former British Designer of the Year, left school at 16, landing an apprenticeship with Savile Row tailor Anderson & Sheppard.

During his stint on Savile Row, McQueen’s clients included the Prince of Wales.

It was here the designer first courted controversy, admitting that he once wrote the words “I am a c**t” in Biro into the sleeve lining of a suit he was creating for Prince Charles.

At the age of 20, he spent time working in Europe and then returned to London and enrolled in design college Central Saintt Martins with the intention of building on his passion for fashion design, which he first developed as a child when he started creating dresses for his three sisters.

McQueen went on to design his own label after graduating from Central St Martin’s and quickly rose became the ‘enfant terrible’ of the fashion world after he was discovered by Isabella Blow, who was fashion director of Tatler at the time.

Famed for his rebellious approach, he launched his first collection in 1992 and was the artful master of combining shock tactics with stunning design and craftsmanship - gaining immediate praise and lots of press in return.

The birth of the Alexander McQueen brand

He hit the headlines with his builder-style “bumster” trousers in 1995 and continued to wow the industry with statement tailoring and a subversive, yet patriotic style.

In 1996, the designer, often recognised by his uniform of Dr Marten boots and cropped hair, was named head designer at the Paris couture house of Givenchy, succeeding designer John Galliano.

The appointment, spearheaded by Bernard Arnault, the chief executive of Givenchy owner LVMH caused a stir.

McQueen’s time at Givenchy was nothing short of tumultuous and controversial with the designer reportedly calling Givenchy himself “irrelevant” telling Vogue in October 1997 that the collection was “crap”.

In autumn 1998 McQueen put on a show for his eponymous label, which featured amputee models and the destruction of white cotton dresses.

McQueen and Givenchy parted ways in 2001, when the contract McQueen said was “constraining his creativity” was ended.

McQueen himself departed London Fashion Week in the late 1990s to show instead in Paris, and he later joined forces with Gucci, who bought 51% of his company in 2000. McQueen stayed on as creative director.

McQueen was a four-time winner of the British Designer of the Year Award, which is operated by the British Fashion Council, as well as the international designer of the year award from the Council of Fashion Designers of America.

He was awarded a CBE in 2003.

With his spring 2003 show, he recreated a dramatic medieval shipwreck scene and in 2005 a human chess game played out with models in a Lewis Carroll-esque Wonderland, injected an element of the theatre and excitement which he was famed for.

In 2005 he walked out on to his catwalk in a “We Love You Kate” slogan T-shirt to show support for his close friend and supermodel Kate Moss during her cocaine scandal.

McQ by McQueen

A year later McQueen re-energised his brand with the launch of a youthful, denim based line diffusion line proving that he had his with his finger on the pulse, as the growing demand for democratic fashion, and the pressing need for luxury brands to diversify beyond their heartland intensified.

The result was the launch of McQ Alexander McQueen which debuted in 2006.

The collection was an immediate hit with independents and department stores alike, and gave fashion fans the opportunity to buy into McQueen’s coveted designs at a fraction of the cost.

The latter years

A year later in 2007, McQueen’s world was rocked by the passing of close friend and mentor Isabella Blow who reportedly committed suicide.

McQueen paid tribute to her with his spring 08 show with a collection of fittingly ambitious head pieces and trademark wasp-waisted tailoring which re-engaged the world’s buying community after his autumn 07 collection fell slightly flat.

Also in 2008, the brand turned a profit for the first time.

McQueen’s current spring 10 collection showed that he was back at the top of his game and was producing some of his finest work at the time of his tragic death.

His wasp-waists were replaced by snake-hips, and the designer featured exotic reptile skin prints on lamp shade, cap-sleeved mini-dresses and billowing jumpsuits.

All of which were statement looks immediately adopted by the high street. His handwriting and true understanding of not only fashion but style and the zeitgeist was universal.

Click here to see Alexander McQueen’s career in pictures.

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