Friday, 9 March 2012

The Rise of a New McQueen by Lucas Grant 

Alexander McQueen advertising 2012

Alexander McQueen: A name synonymous with couture, decadence and celestial imagination. McQueen was born on the 17th March, 1969 in Lewisham, London; he heralded from a modest background, working class even, from a council flat in Lewisham, London.
McQueen’s first stint as a designer, though basic, was as a dress maker for his three sisters; it was after discovering his flair for fashion and a keen eye for detail that McQueen decided fashion design was the pathway for him. Having left school with only one GCSE in Art, at the age of sixteen, he took on an apprenticeship with Saville Row who noted McQueen’s eclectic style and precision tailoring; it was his year spent at Saville Row which ultimately crafted him into an impeccable tailor. Despite having only one qualification to his name, McQueen then applied to Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design, in 1994, to work as a pattern cutter tutor. Because of the strength of his portfolio, he was persuaded by 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 later became a close affiliate and friend to the young designer. After his Master’s, McQueen went on to work for the fashion colossus, Givenchy,  in 1996. McQueen’s partnership with Givenchy, however, began sour and remained so until his departure in 2001—He credited preceding designer, John Galliano, has having been useless in his efforts to catapult Givenchy further, yet McQueen’s designs themselves were not taken as receptively as he had wished, he argued that Givenchy restricted his creativity, thus the departure was imminent. 

McQueen, nevertheless, accrued many accomplishments during his sartorial reign; he won ‘British Designer of the Year’ four times between 1996 and 2003, and was also awarded a CBE (Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire), and named as the International Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers in 2003. 

The Alexander McQueen 'Savage Beauty'  exhibition
 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Despite his successes, however, McQueen committed suicide on February 11th, 2010 after taking a cocktail of cocaine, sleeping pills and tranquilisers; he ultimately hung himself to finish off his short but fascinating life. Opinions regarding his suicide link with his mother’s death only 72 hours before his own, and that of his best friend, as aforesaid, Isabella Blow, who drank a bottle of weed killer in a bathroom at a dinner party. His final collection, only 80% finished, detailed Medieval images, colours of red, gold and silver with acute embroidery signalled a morose tone.

The last collection of Alexander McQueen (FW, SS 2010)

His label, however, is far from over. Sarah Burton, a recently known fashion designer and associate of McQueen has taken the reigns of McQueen’s empire. Burton, who also attended Central Saint Martin’s, took on a position at McQueen very early in her career, as suggested to her by her tutor and also close friend to McQueen. It was after her graduation that Burton began to acquire some notability, she established herself as McQueen’s assistant, and, in 2000, was promoted to Head of Women’s Wear, designing for such celebrities and royals as Kate Middleton for her bride gown (2011), Michelle Obama, Lady Gaga and Gwyneth Paltrow. 

After the demise of McQueen, Burton launched her first collection under his name in September 2010, having solely designed and created the piece herself; her sartorial presence has not gone unnoticed, and in November of 2011, she, too, was given the title of Designer of the Year. 


Alexander McQueen by Sarah Burton (FW 2011)

Latest collection by Sarah Burton (SS 2012)

McQueen commented on his fashion inspirations, he asserts:

"I get my ideas out of my dreams… if you’re lucky enough to use something you see in a dream, it is purely original. It’s not in the world — it’s in your head."

We hope that, like McQueen, Sarah can impress us with her dreams and visions and be able to illustrate all her wit and edge that past shows of McQueen have before. Whether it still truly reflects McQueen’s genius and love for fashion is a thought left to the watchers and lovers of the label.

Author: Lucas Grant
Editor: Adel Delis