February 17, 2010

Alexander McQueen: The Life and Legacy of a High Fashion Trailblazer

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Lee’s first business deal in the fashion industry was, to say the least, out of the ordinary. Most designers send their assistants to carefully hand-deliver their pieces, but Lee, more universally known as Alexander McQueen, had other ideas. A high school dropout and the son of an East London taxi driver, McQueen delivered his graduate show collection himself — stuffed in garbage bags. Sadly, Lee’s life came to a tragic end last Thursday, when he died at the age of 41 on the first day of New York City fashion week.

Not long after he sold his first designs, McQueen followed in the footsteps of John Galliano by becoming the chief designer at Givenchy. The same year, McQueen received the prestigious British Designer of the Year award, a title he would go on to win four more times before his death.

Despite his success in the fashion industry, McQueen’s personal life was plagued with despair. Isabella Blow, his close friend and also the editor of Tatler magazine, committed suicide in 2007 after a devastating diagnosis of ovarian cancer. Nearly two weeks ago McQueen’s mother died, leading the designer into a state of depression until his death last Thursday, widely reported to be suicide.

McQueen’s influence on the fashion industry was unquestionable. If you’ve flipped through a magazine or watched MTV recently, you’ve likely seen his work, whether it was a couture gown on Sandra Bullock at the Screen Actors Guild Awards or Lady Gaga’s outrageous polar bear rug coat in her Bad Romance music video. And while Janet Jackson received all the attention for her exquisite “wardrobe malfunction” at the Superbowl several years ago, it was McQueen who was behind her scandalous ensemble. McQueen was never one to hold back, sending models down the runway in Technicolor cocktail dresses, skirts made of recycled plastic and antlered headwear.

McQueen’s label is still in talks about who will move in as creative director of the brand. Unlike most designers, who hand over creative rights when they are bought out by a larger company (in McQueen’s case, Gucci owns nearly half of the company), McQueen retained his position as head designer. It seems to me that they will never find an apt replacement — after all, who but McQueen could dream up a 10-inch shoe covered in rhinestones, dubbed “The Armadillo,” or a floor-length gown made entirely out of flowers?

It’s a shame that the fashion world had to see such a tremendous talent die so early in his life. McQueen was a truly original creative genius, introducing styles like the “bumster” pant and shocking Fashion Week audiences with his outlandish runway shows that were often the highlight of the event.

“At one level he was a master of the fantastic, creating astounding fashion shows that mixed design, technology and performance, and on another he was a modern-day genius whose gothic aesthetic was adopted by women the world over,” said Alexandra Shulman, the editor or British Vogue, in an interview shortly after the designer’s death. McQueen was an asset to the industry, who will be mourned by not only the celebrities he clothed and his fellow designers, but also by his fans to whom his collections offered a brief look into his fantastical world of fashion and his refreshing vision of life.

Original Author: Becca Lesser