Having worked in fashion, I tend to agree with George Pitcher’s opinion in the Telegraph this morning that it can sometimes feel like a “pointless and sordid industry”. But that’s about as far as we agree. A truly creative mind like that of Lee “Alexander” McQueen, who died last week, cannot fail to be inspirational.
McQueen showed that fashion can also be art. The tributes that poured in over the weekend stressed his ability to shock, surprise and awe with spectacles of insurmountable beauty.
His understanding of fabric and its relationship to the human body was fine-tuned as an apprentice on Savile Row. It was this perfect understanding that brought us low-slung “bumster” jeans, a trick of tailoring that elongated the torso and exposed the lower back, which he thought of as the most erotic part of the body.
As much a showman as a designer, McQueen forced his audience to look at things differently. The genius lay in his wacky and stunningly original concepts. Once he ordered car spraying robots to cover the model Shalom Harlow in paint as she stood on a rotating disc. This was long before that advert featuring the machines appeared on TV.
“You find a lot of ideas from my shows in adverts now. I find it a compliment,” he said later in an interview with Sarah Mower at US Vogue. In other shows he had models dragged on to the catwalk by wolves and surrounded his audience in mirrors. “It was a great thing to do in the fashion industry — turn it back on them!”
He did not, as the Daily Mail‘s Liz Jones says, merely create clothes for us to marvel at but not to wear. Unlike younger British designers such as Gareth Pugh, who has undoubtedly been influenced by McQueen’s dramatic and sculptural aesthetic, he transformed his art and passion into a workable and very profitable business.
Fashion labels don’t survive because ethereal, long-legged beauties buy their clothes; they profit when ordinary people buy in to that vision with their cold, hard-earned cash.
Below is a selection of highlights from McQueen’s career.
Alexander McQueen and Sarah Jessica Parker attending the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit Gala in New York 2006. Evan Agostini/Getty Images
McQueen’s ready-to-wear spring/summer 2010 show in Paris. FRANÇOIS GUILLOT/AFP/Getty Images
McQueen salutes his audience for the last time, during men’s fashion week in Milan. DAMIEN MEYER/AFP/Getty Images
One of McQueen’s signature hats at his ready-to-wear spring/summer 2008 show.
Models at his autumn/winter 2009 show.
With the stylist Isabella Blow in 2005. Blow, a close friend, committed suicide in 2007.
The ready-to-wear autumn/winter 2009 fashion show at Paris Fashion Week.
With the models Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss at a charity auction and fashion show in London, June 2004.
With his mother, Joyce, who died shortly before Alexander’s suicide.
McQueen receives a CBE from the Queen, one of many awards honouring his contribution to fashion.