What Made Alexander McQueen Such An Iconic Designer?
This weekend, one of the V&A’s most anticipated exhibitions in recent times, ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ opens. It celebrates the “extraordinary creative talent of one of the most innovative designers of recent times,” as the first retrospective of McQueen’s work to be presented in Europe. But what was it about Lee Alexander McQueen that made him such an iconic designer? (Alexander McQueen’s SS 2000 show ‘Eye’ is pictured above)
Lee’s early runway shows helped cement his reputation as the “hooligan of British fashion” with headline grabbing, often controversial shows such as ‘highland rape.’ His showmanship became renowned, creating iconic displays such as his Spring/Summer 2005’s human chess game (below), the AW 2006 show featuring Kate Moss as a ghostly hologram or his Spring/Summer 2001 runway featuring the likes of Kate Moss and Erin O’Conner trapped inside a giant mirrored cube, featured below second. His close alliance with super stylist Katy Grand, described as his “right hand woman” ensured each show was as directional as it was powerful.
(NB. The archive videos don’t have any sound, in case you were wondering…)
Lee McQueen trained as a tailor on Savile Row, after leaving school at 16. His skill with the needle, ability to work with fabrics and knowledge of how each piece should be cut and formed, to create the perfect silhouette, ensured he produced garments that looked beautiful both on and off the catwalk, seen below in his Spring/Summer 1999 catwalk show. The legend goes that as a young, cheeky lad from East London, Lee McQueen once embroidered a suit for the Prince of Wales with the words “I am a c**t” sewn into the lining.
It was whilst studying for an MA at Central Saint Martins, that influential fashion journalist and stylist Isabella Blow saw Lee McQueen’s final show and reportedly bought the whole collection, seeing in his work a true fashion genius. She was also understood to have persuaded Lee to use his middle name (Alexander) and surname to front his own label. Lee’s ability to create a vision each season, lived out on the catwalk through his collections, ensured each subsequent season was equally as impactful. Nick Knight said, of working with the designer: “That’s the wonderful thing about Lee, when he rang up to ask you to do something, you knew it was going to be great.” Alexander McQueen’s Spring/Summer 2003 show is shown below.
Lee McQueen’s impoverished East End roots are well documented, but he remained remarkably grounded considering his international fame and success. The designer had a bevy of well known friends in the fashion industry, who held a similar ethos to him. Kate Moss said in an interview to Nick Knight that they bonded over the fact that they were both “don’t give a shit” and “got on really well” as a consequence.
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty (14 March – 2 August 2015)
Victoria & Albert Musuem, Cromwell Road, London SW7 2RL