Fashion Heroes: Remembering Lee Alexander McQueen


It is without a doubt that Lee Alexander McQueen was (and still is) one of the most influential designers in modern history. His creative genius has been celebrated time and again by many. 

Born in 1969, in Lewisham, in England, the youngest of six children was always interested in fashion. Even at a very young age, McQueen started making dresses for his three sisters and announced his intention to become a fashion designer. At the age of 16, McQueen quit school and served an apprenticeship with Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard, before joining Gieves & Hawkes. While on Savile Row, McQueen's clients included Mikhail Gorbachev and Prince Charles. Later, he worked for the theatrical costumiers Angels and Bermans, whose dramatic style influenced McQueen greatly and would later become one of the signature styles in his designs.

At the age of 20, he spent a period of time working for Koji Tatsuno before travelling to Milan, Italy and working for Romeo Gigli. McQueen returned to London in 1994 and applied to Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, to work as a pattern cutter tutor. Because of the strength of his portfolio he was persuaded by Bobby Hillson, the Head of the Masters course, to enrol in the course as a student. He received his master's degree in fashion design and his graduation collection was bought in its entirety by influential fashion stylist Isabella Blow, who was said to have persuaded McQueen to become known as Alexander (his middle name) when he subsequently launched his fashion career.

So talented was McQueen that, in 1996, he was hired by LVMH's Bernard Arnault to take over John Galliano's position as head designer at iconic French fashion house Givenchy. At that point, and despite the support of many fashion influencers, McQueen was a still a nobody.

At Givenchy, McQueen caused a stir by insulting the house's founder by calling him irrelevant. Despite an unsuccessful debut couture collection, McQueen persevered. He toned down his designs at Givenchy, but continued to indulge his rebellious streak, causing controversy in autumn 1998 with a show which included double amputee model Aimee Mullins striding down the catwalk on intricately carved wooden legs. 


This year also saw McQueen complete one of his most famous runway shows (Spring/Summer 1999), where a single model, Shalom Harlow graced the runway in a strapless white dress, before being rotated slowly on a revolving section of the catwalk whilst being sprayed with paint by two robotic guns. McQueen stayed with Givenchy until March 2001, when the contract he said was "constraining his creativity" ended.


McQueen is most known for his theatrical designs and powerful runway shows. His runway shows were hotly anticipated and would often leave a trail of controversy afterwards.

He is one of the few designers who is bold enough to present collections that shocked spectators and held qualities that other refer to as "disturbed and raw." He has brought many elements that impacted the fashion industry with things like his "bumster" pants, skull print and extreme silhouettes. 

Each collection he presented had a distinct narrative that carries with it a deeper meaning. For instance, for his last runway show before his sudden death, McQueen sent out models walking in elaborate and dangerously high-heels that resembled an armadillo. 


The show was aptly named "Survival of the Fittest". While many thought it was just a design gimmick, McQueen wanted to show the idea of survival - walking on crazy shoes while still putting on a good show.

McQueen's apprenticeship on Savile Row also helped earn him a reputation in the fashion world as an expert at creating an impeccably tailored look. As Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue, explains to the BBC: "He was incredibly clever at cutting clothes."

In cutting his teeth at Anderson & Sheppard, and Gieves and Hawkes, McQueen learned the disciplines of shape and proportion in traditional tailoring. During this time he even made a suit for Prince Charles.

Eilidh Macaskill, the editor of InStyle magazine, told the BBC that McQueen wasn't just about crazy looks on the catwalk. "He also created beautiful, beautiful wearable clothes… the razor-sharp suit, the pencil skirts, the beautiful prints in the spring and summer collection."


In essence, the way McQueen's clothes were tailored had an impact beyond the catwalk as it affected fashion and it filtered on to the High Street.

Then, just as his star was shining brighter than ever, the world woke up to news that Lee Alexander McQueen had committed suicide. He was found hanging in his home on the morning of February 2010 by his housekeeper. Hi death came nine days after the passing of his mother who died of cancer. 

It was reported that McQueen's funeral took place on 25 February 2010 at St. Paul's Church, Knightsbridge, West London. His ashes were later scattered on the Isle of Skye. A memorial was held for McQueen at St. Paul's Cathedral on 20 September 2010. It was attended by Björk, Kate Moss, Sarah Jessica Parker, Naomi Campbell, Stella McCartney and Anna Wintour amongst 2,500 other invited guests.

On 18 February 2010, Robert Polet, the president and chief executive of the Gucci Group, announced that the Alexander McQueen business would carry on without its founder and creative director. To date, Sarah Burton, who was McQueen's head of womenswear designs, has been helming the fort as chief designer of the fashion.