Lee Alexander McQueen’s suicide in February instantly made headlines around the world and deeply wounded an industry that prized his talents as a creative trailblazer and his abiding irreverence in a business that had become decidedly corporate since the designer began his career in London’s East End in the early Nineties.
McQueen had earned the admiration and respect of his peers, like John Galliano, who called him “daring, original, exciting,” and Jean Paul Gaultier, who said he was “a great talent.” Stella McCartney was among those who remembered him as “a fashion genius…a mate and a peer, and full of energy,” while Donatella Versace called him a “true icon.”
“The world has lost a very talented young man whom I have always respected for his outstanding genius,” said Giorgio Armani.
At his memorial service at St. Paul’s in September, Suzy Menkes, fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, told the crowd of 1,200 that gathered under the great dome of the London landmark that while McQueen’s shows may have been populated with bones and skulls, caged ravens or wolves straining on leashes, “His imagination and showmanship never drowned out his fabulous tailoring. He was an artist who just happened to work with clothing.”
Those who worked alongside McQueen — who was found hanged inside the wardrobe of his London home on Feb. 11, the day his mother Joyce’s funeral was set to take place — concurred. Shortly after his death, Camilla Nickerson, the fashion stylist, remembered the highly instinctive way in which McQueen would work.
“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.”
For McQueen, the extraordinary was simply business as usual. “Fashion should be a form of escapism, and not a form of imprisonment,” he said during an interview with WWD last year. “I wasn’t born to give you a twin set and pearls.”
Poignantly, a few months before his death, McQueen was looking forward to the seemingly endless possibilities the Internet could offer the fashion industry. In an interview in September 2009, shortly before streaming his Paris runway show live for the first time, McQueen talked about someday beaming his shows around the world via holograms.
“This is the birth of a new dawn in fashion,” McQueen said. “There is no way back for me now. I am going to take you on journeys you’ve never dreamed were possible.”