Influential Fashion Illustrators: Alexander McQueenCredit: alexandermcqueen.comEarly last year, the fashion world, suffered major loss as one of the most creative geniuses and influential British designers, Alexander McQueen died because of suicide.

The British designer who formed his own namesake brand was born to a taxi driver and social science teacher in the East End of London. He was the youngest of six children.  Lee Alexander McQueen studied at the Rokeby School, and became an apprentice under Savile Row tailors, Anderson & Shepard, Gieves & Hawkes and finally Angels & Bermans (Tyler, 2011, pp.152). Savile Rows made him in to an impeccable tailor working for the likes of Mikhail Gorbavech and Prince Charles, while Angels & Bermans has been said to have honed the master designer in theatrical costumes.

Then in the early 90’s, McQueen applied the Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, where he received his Master’s Degree in Fashion Design. Here he met fashion stylist Isabella Bow. The stylist heavily influenced him, and even directed McQueen into using his middle name Alexander when launching his fashion career (Packer, 2010, pp.79-81).

One of McQueen first few client’s included the then popular, Icelandic singer Bjork. McQueen did the design for Bjork’s look for her album cover, Homogenic. They also collaborated in a few music videos from the same album.

In 1996, McQueen caused quite a ruckus when he was appointed by Bernard Arnault, LVMH President as head designer of Givenchy succeeding John Galliano.  His first collection with the brand was not too much of a hit, with he, himself telling Vogue that it was ‘crap’.  McQueen signed on to Givenchy until 2001. He created for them spraying paint over white dresses and double amputee models with wooden legs.

Controlled Rebellion

By the end of 2001, Mc Queen saw a new partnership with the Gucci group. The brand acquired 51% of his company and he was also named as the Creative Director of Gucci.

There are times that McQueen may have simmered down his rebellious streak , like his time in Givenchy. However his avant garde ways meet the traditional  gives the public something to look out for. He has constructed strong and confident silhouettes, with a sense of craftsmanship and beauty.

One good example would be the hipster or the low-slung jeans. McQueen made them first appear in his show in 1993 (Tyler, 2011, pp.152). He made them terribly low rise as to that the crevices would reveal. The hipster jeans and the look spread like wild fire and could still be seen today. He is the reason why trousers are downcast to the hip and have stayed there ever since.

McQueen also believed in good tailoring.  His clothes are not just about edgy, out of this world looks, He also produces wearable, practical garment that are finely tailored. He did after all learn this from Savile Row. Mc Queen was very much disciplined when it comes to patterns, shapes, proportions and cutting of traditional tailoring. Many fashion observers remarked that McQueen’s tailored look also had an appeal to the upper calls market.

McQueen also introduced the skull prints in to the market. This became his signature and celebrities such as Johnny Depp, Nicole Ritchie and Cameron Diaz flaunted McQueen’s designs of clothes, bags, scarves bearing the skull prints (Tyler, 2011, pp.152).

Apart from the confident silhouettes, what made McQueen stand out was the extreme silhouettes which he has created. Some were unconventional, some were tagged as outlandish while some of his design are just plain bizarre. Some fashion experts noted that McQueen was not there to just make fashion, he also created spectacles.  It was his silhouettes which has created a sense fantasy and at the same time gave fashion some rebellion and edge.

Alongside the unusual silhouettes comes the theatrical fashion shows which McQueen has long been known for.  He used broken mirrors as a runway ramp. He made use of birdcages, butterflies, antlers, feathered wings He has been credited to bringing theatrical drama into the fashion runway, it was not just a fashion show it was a production number.

McQueen did not only pay attention to the clothes. He gave details to the whole look, the makeup, the lipstick. Like one of his past shows when the models had on gothic inspired yet clownish with heavy deep red lips.

In another show, he projected the supermodel Kate Moss on the runway. Kate was a hologram off a glass pyramid.  He also experimented with love streaming, his shows could be seen on the internet.   His trade mark would always be that his show would be ahead of time, and that nothing impossible when it comes to McQueen.

McQueen was never the one to treat models and supermodels like royalty he would often use mould breaking models in his shows. In 1998, in a Givenchy show, he used double amputee paralympian Aimee Mullins to model for him using hand carved wooden legs.  He was also the first to use Indian models on the British catwalk.

Indeed, Mc Queen has carved his own niche on the fashion industry. Unfortunately, a tragedy ensued in the fashion community on February 11, 2010 (Wilson, 2000, p.173). Days before London Fashion week and nine days after the death of his mother, McQueen reportedly had slashed his wrists with a dagger and a meat cleaver, then afterwards had hung himself using his favourite brown belt.

The Gucci group announced that the brand would live on even after the death of Mc Queen. His last collection, even though it was not finished, still met praises. Fashion editors commended it. Among them is Anna Wintour, Vogue Editor-in chief. She says,“the great truth of who Alexander was as a designer — a virtuoso technician who was capable of just about anything he put his mind to”.

McQueen won many accolades among them was being named the British Designer of the Year, which he won four times from 1996 to 2003 (Packer, 2010, pp.79-81). He was also given the distinction of the International Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers in 2003.  In 2004, Mc Queen won the Men’s wear Designer of the Year award. He was honoured with the distinction of order of the British Empire (CBE) by her majesty the Queen, for his accomplishments in the fashion industry.

"I didn't plan out my life like that," he once said. "When people recognise and respect what you do, that's nice, but I don't think you ever do this to be famous. Fame should be left to the film stars. We're just offering a service."


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