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Alexander McQueen, A True Master

One of the most acclaimed and incendiary designers of his generation, found dead at his London home on Thursday.

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Alexander McQueen Fall 2010

Photo By Mauricio Miranda

Alexander McQueen Spring 2010

Photo By Giovanni Giannoni

Alexander McQueen RTW Fall 1995.

Photo By Chris Moore/Catwalking.com

 

McQueen was known for his aggressive streak, and a fascination with dark subjects, from the Joel-Peter Witkin photos he collected to fashion shows that referenced witchcraft and bondage. Yet Franco Pené, chairman of Gibò, one of the first supporters and producers of McQueen, described him as “adorable, extremely sensitive and very fragile,” remembering how he would “cry for his troubled love stories” or his deep affection for dogs, for example. “While he projected a bad-boy image earlier on in his career, he was very shy and had an incredible humanity,” said Pené. Pené also said he was “one of the most incredible, naturally creative minds, who could even sketch an entire collection in one day.” And far from being a diva, he once insisted he and Pené should both attend a New York show of Adrover’s to support him.

 

Donatella Versace called McQueen a true icon. “His imagination had no limits and his strong personality, together with his strong creativity, made him unique.” “This news has come as a shock and greatly saddened me. The world has lost a very talented young man whom I have always respected for his outstanding genius,” said Giorgio Armani. “I am truly shocked and saddened by this tragic news and my thoughts are with Lee’s family. Lee was one of Britain’s greatest designers and was an inspiration to so very many people. His unique vision, charm and warm character will be greatly missed by everybody who knew Lee and by everyone touched by his extraordinary talent,” said Christopher Bailey, chief creative officer of Burberry. “I think every designer’s dream is to have that talent, that vision and that integrity,”

 

Donna Karan said. “It’s shocking to think that something like this could happen to somebody of that ability, who has that creativity and expression and love inside of him. There are very few people you look at who are icons of creativity.” Karan recalled recently seeing Daphne Guinness wearing one of McQueen’s futuristic shoes. “He had that ability to not only create beyond the limits, but also keep it accessible. He was able to do both, to dream the creative dream and deliver a product that you could embrace, and that is very unique,” she said.

 

Guinness recalled the first time she met McQueen. “He spotted me across Leicester Square. I was wearing his Givenchy kimono with the dragon on the back. We became good friends. He was the kindest, shiest, funniest person. And when the chips were down, he was there. He wasn’t a flake. You could count on him. I will miss him. “He was an aristocrat in the true sense of the word,” she added. “He had a natural grace, natural patrician instincts. And he had so much compassion and a big heart. We would go to his studio and do simple things — sit and have a cup of tea — and just have fun. We’d play around like kids and imagine that we were in a world that wasn’t so cynical and money-driven.”

 

Marc Jacobs was friendly with McQueen, sharing many mutual friends over the years, and running into him from time to time. “He is such a great guy and such an amazing talent that it is so devastating to know he is gone,” Jacobs said. “We have a lot of mutual friends and some of them are working here, and everybody is walking around crying today, so it’s been a little sad. “I will miss him, and I will certainly miss the beauty that he created, and his vision and his world,” Jacobs added.

 

“We are devastated to learn of the death of Alexander McQueen, one of the greatest talents of his generation,” Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of Vogue, said. “He brought a uniquely British sense of daring and aesthetic fearlessness to the global stage of fashion. In such a short career, Alexander McQueen’s influence was astonishing — from street style, to music culture and the world’s museums. His passing marks an insurmountable loss.”

 

Ed Filipowski, president of public relations firm KCD Inc., said, “We worked with Lee for 10 years, and during that time, he took us to the most wonderful places fashion could go. It’s a testament to his talent and spirit that he has created such a legacy that will endure.”

 

Camilla Nickerson, the fashion stylist and senior contributing fashion editor at W magazine, had worked with McQueen over the past year. “The staggering thing about him was that he literally cut fabric off the bolt, folded it very perfectly on the floor, and asked for the scissors from his very attentive assistant. He would then think about it and attack the piece of fabric and hold it to the girl, and there was the dress or the jacket in place. I hadn’t ever watched anyone work so fluently and so directly.” Nickerson recalled their first meeting, when McQueen arrived in New York, and with him, brought “these carpets of ideas that he just laid out on my floor, and he spoke for two hours without drawing breath. He just floored you every time.”

 

“I remember my first time I saw Alexander McQueen,” said Suzy Menkes of the International Herald Tribune. “He was in a tatty little apartment in the East End, so small you could hardly swing the proverbial cat. The whole floor was chaotic with bits of fabric and things lying around, bits of thread.…It looked like a kind of joke-Victorian vision of a fashion designer. And that was his roots, where he came from. He was so fascinated with his work then. I watched him working and I just knew at that moment that this was an extraordinary talent. “My other great memory of him was after the show when he mooned, as we say in British English, showing his butt to the world at the end of the show. I went backstage and he was crying and he said, ‘I’ve blown it, I’ve blown it,’ meaning he’d made a mess of everything, and I said, ‘You haven’t. It was a wonderful show and you just have to pick up and go on.’ And he did.”

 

Fashion editor and stylist Katie Grand recalls attending McQueen’s first show at the Bluebird Garage in London. “There was no seating, and it was all incredibly cool. The girls came out covered in terra-cotta makeup and that weird proportion with the bumster, which is now so famous. There were so many beautiful things in that show — it was just relentless,” she recalled. “Some of my favorite shows ever have been by Lee, and early on, it was always such a bloody drama getting in — that was half of the fun.”

 

Retailers contacted Thursday said the McQueen business was on a solid growth track. According to the company’s Web site, his collections are distributed through 194 wholesale accounts in more than 39 countries. Sarah Rutson, fashion director at Lane Crawford, Hong Kong, cited “huge” sell-throughs. “I’ve been growing this business solidly season-on-season for six seasons now,” she said. “Lee gave something to fashion that was unique and, I often felt, not of this world. He evoked strong emotions, and a brutal honesty in everything that he did.” “It is a great loss,” said Joan Burstein, owner of Browns in London. “Having been with us from the beginning, I am extremely sad to hear this news. We will mourn the loss of him and his growing talent.”

 

“Like all artists — and he really was an artist — he needed love, and I loved him deeply,” said Chantal Roos, who developed fragrances with McQueen when she headed YSL Beauté. While directional, McQueen’s forays into fragrance didn’t add up to a blockbuster business at counter. He introduced his first fragrance in 2003 with YSL Beauté, then a division of Gucci Group. Dubbed Kingdom, the scent was packaged in a flacon resembling a heart and was accompanied with a poem he composed with Pulitzer Prize winner Jorie Graham. “I am a melancholy type of person,” McQueen said at the time. “I’m feeling deep and romantic at heart and this fragrance comes from my heart.” Kingdom was followed in 2005 by My Queen, which worked on a fairy-tale concept. When L’Oréal acquired YSL Beauté in 2008 and with it beauty licenses for Stella McCartney and other brands, McQueen’s beauty business was not part of the transaction.

 

Recently, the designer was energized by the prospect of new media, and in September began posting messages on Twitter.com/mcqueenworld. “I do it so much that someone needs to get me a gag,” he said. Via the Internet, and live-streaming of his show, the designer expressed a desire to reach a wider audience — for people in Australia, Asia and Middle America who didn’t have a seat at the show. “Really, what I’m aiming for is world domination!”

 

The designer said he hoped to create special capsule collections so the public could buy clothing right off his runway. He was also dreaming of setting up glass pyramids, “anywhere in the world,” he said, and beaming holograms of his fashion shows into them. “This is the birth of a new dawn,” McQueen said and, perhaps in a comment that perfectly captured his entire career, he added, “There is no way back for me now. I am going to take you on journeys you’ve never dreamed were possible.”

 

 

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