A life in fashion: How Alexander McQueen became 'the most influential designer of his generation'

By Maysa Rawi and Tamara Abraham
Last updated at 8:27 PM on 11th February 2010

Raw energy: Alexander McQueen was hailed as one of British fashion's brightest stars

Fashion's brightest star: Alexander McQueen, 40, was found dead today after committing suicide

Victoria Beckham today led tributes to Alexander McQueen, the East End boy whose breathtaking fashion creations became adored the world over.

Within hours of Lee Alexander McQueen's suicide, thousands of industry insiders had come forward to pay their respects to the fashion great.

Beckham, who is frequently photographed in McQueen designs, said: 'McQueen was a master of fashion, creative genius and an inspiration.

'Today the fashion industry has lost a true great. An icon of all time. He made all he touched beautiful and will be desperately missed.

'My heart is very much with his family and friends at this very sad time.'

British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman said: 'He was the most brilliant designer of his generation and his influence can be seen in the way that women dressed over the last 15 years.

'It is an incredible loss not only for British fashion but for fashion the world over.'

Former CEO at Alexander McQueen, Sue Whiteley, said: 'This is devastating news. He was an unforgettable part of my life. He was a talent who was beyond others.

People who worked with him would give 100 per cent and more because he was totally inspiring.

'This is an unimaginable loss for the fashion world.

'He was able to bring creativity to whatever he turns his hand to, from perfume bottles to every piece of clothing.

'It is a dark, dark day to hear this news. He was a British icon in fashion whose loss is unimaginable.'

A true original, who once incorporated human hair into his designs, and last September sent 12-inch platforms down the catwalk, McQueen combined masterful tailoring and a haute couture sensibility with an imagination that spanned from obscure to sublime.

His designs, which he once described as 'armour', were adored by countless celebrities from Joan Collins to Lady GaGa.

Fantasy fashion: Last September McQueen sent models down the catwalk in towering 12-inch boots for an ethereal show inspired by Charles Darwin's The Origin Of The Species

Tall order: Alexander McQueen's controversial Armadillo shoes as part of the Spring 2010 collection inspired by Charles Darwin's Origin of Species

He once said in an interview: 'When you see a woman wearing McQueen, there's a certain hardness to the clothes that makes her look powerful. It kind of fends people off. You have to have a lot of balls to talk to a woman wearing my clothes.'

A fragrance, a trainer collection for Puma and luggage line for Samsonite made his designs accessible for the masses, and a cheaper, diffusion collection, McQ, was launched in 2005 to be sold alongside his mainline collection.

Born in Lewisham, McQueen was the son of a London cab driver and the youngest of six children.

Though his career officially began at the age of 16, he often recalled his earliest memory when, aged 3, he drew a picture of a dress on the wall of his family's council house in the East End of London.

He was close with his mother, and is said to have taken her death badly when she died last week.

In a joint interview in 2004, she had asked him: 'What is your most terrifying fear?'

He replied: 'Dying before you.'

To which she replied: 'Thank you, son.'

McQueen called himself the 'pink sheep' of his family, and admitted he had known he was gay for at least ten years before he came out to his family, aged 18 -something he described as a 'rocky period'.

Alexander McQueen
Alexander McQueen

Golden oldies: Alexander's Paris show in April 2009, where he served up a selection of his greatest hits

 Alexander McQueen
 Alexander McQueen

Surreal: The 2009 collection included hats made of 'found' items including umbrellas, lampshades and wheels

 Haute Couture collection

Dramatic: A model presents a wedding dress with crinoline for Givenchy Spring-Summer 2000

In 1996 LVMH chose McQueen to succeed John Galliano as head designer at Givenchy. He caused a stir at the fashion label and was forced to tone down his act after telling Vogue that his first couture collection was 'crap' and dismissing Hubert Givenchy as 'irrelevant'.

Later, he would admit: 'I treated Givenchy badly. It was just money to me. But there was nothing I could do: the only way it would have worked would have been if they had allowed me to change the whole concept of the house, to give it a new identity, and they never wanted me to do that.

'[Bernard] Arnault was never going to allow Givenchy to overshadow Dior; to him, Givenchy is just a perfume.'

McQueen eventually parted ways with Givenchy in 2001, when he claimed his contract with the French label was 'constraining his creativity.'

Under his own label, and with the help of the Gucci group, which acquired a 51 per cent stake in the business, he built a fashion empire, with stores in cities across the world, including London, New York, Los Angeles, Milan and Las Vegas.

Designs such as his skull-print scarf and the Novak bag were widely imitated, and celebrities from Kate Moss, Sarah Jessica Parker and Victoria Beckham to Rihanna and Lady GaGa can be counted among his biggest fans.

Alexander McQueen
ALEXANDER MCQUEEN

Bold: McQueen's elaborate and theatrical accessories, pictured in 2000,  played a pivotal role in his shows

ALEXANDER MCQUEEN Juxtoposition: McQueen's collections often included contrasts between the wildly romantic and the controversial. Erin O Connor models a feathered creation in 2000

Integral to the McQueen culture was the fusion of contrasting elements: fragility and strength, tradition and modernity, fluidity and severity.

Always relevant, his high-impact, dramatic collections saw him hailed as fashion's 'enfant terrible', and his catwalk shows have been a highlight of Paris Fashion Week since he started showing there in 2000.

His inspirations varied from the dark to the bizarre, among them Sydney Pollack's film 'They Shoot Horses, Don't They?', Hitchcock heroines, Lord Of The Flies and even a chess game. The designer called his shows: 'My own living nightmares', and admitted: 'Nicey nicey just doesn't do it for me.'

IMEE MULLINS
 Alexander McQueen

Controversial: McQueen sent double amputee model Aimee Mullins down the catwalk on carved wooden legs

Among his most exciting collections was last September's ethereal collection, a teenage passion for ornithology evident in an offering inspired by Darwin's The Origin Of The Species.

Models were forced to walk the catwalk in towering 12-inch platforms - indeed several refused - with their hair teased into devil-like horns, in minidresses decorated with all manner of colourful, elaborate skins.

Ruffled hemlines were frilled to resemble feathers, and vibrant fabrics were printed to resemble amphibian-like breastplates.

Alexander McQueen

Energy: McQueen, pictured in 1998, was renowned for the dramatic effect created during shows

Alexander McQueen
Alexander McQueen

Throwback: The 1998 collection was a nod to 17th Century fashion in Marie Antoinette-style designs

Alexander McQueen
Alexander McQueen

New Romantic: A dress made from silk roses, left, and a nude gown intricately beaded from the 1996 collection

McQueen was to show two collections in the upcoming series of fashion weeks; on Thursday his diffusion line, McQ at New York Fashion Week.

Of his label, McQueen told W Magazine in 2008: 'I’m talking about building a luxury brand from scratch, and there wasn’t any [precedent] —maybe Marc [Jacobs], but he’s a bit older than us.

'These new designers, the new generation of luxury brands [could become] like the new Chanel and the new Balenciaga and the new Dior. I see it like that, and now I can see there’s light at the end of the tunnel.'

The fashion world had been waiting with baited breath to see his latest offering at Paris Fashion Week next month. Now we may never know what fantastic creations he had in store - instead, the industry look set to pay sad tribute to it's brightest star.

THE CELEBRITY FANS THAT LOVED TO WEAR MCQUEEN....


Sarah Jessica Parker
Victoria Beckham

Anglomania: Alexander McQueen poses with Sarah Jessica Parker at the Costume Institute Gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2006, left, and Victoria Beckham sports a similar skirt in 2006

Katie Holmes
Cate Blanchett
Rihanna

Katie Holmes at a charity function in New York in 2008, Cate Blanchett at the premiere of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in 2008 and Rihanna at the premiere of Inglourious Basterds 


 Sarah Jessica Parker
Nicole Kidman
Gwyneth Paltrow

Sarah Jessica Parker at the premiere of Sex and the City, Nicole Kidman at the Country Music Awards in 2007 and Gwyneth Paltrow at the 2002 Oscars


 Cameron Diaz
 Kate Bosworth
 Patsy Healy

Cameron Diaz at this year's Golden Globes, Kate Bosworth in January this year and Patsy Kensit in 2009













 

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