The news of Alexander McQueen’s death has cast a dark shadow over the fashion industry, as they mourn the loss of one of fashion’s most iconic, innovative and commercially successful stars.
His apparent suicide came on the eve of his beloved mother’s funeral, who had died earlier this month. It was no secret how close they were, with Alexander announcing her death on his Twitter page:
“I’m letting my followers know that my mother passed away yesterday if it she had not had me nor would you RIP mumxx.”
As the youngest of six children, it was Joyce who was always there for him, at every show, and in a 2004 Guardian interview, Alexander told her that his most terrifying fear was ‘dying before you’ and that it was his mother who made him ‘most proud’.
Alice Smith, a fashion consultant, who had known McQueen since his first collection, told the Times: “I saw him a few months ago and he seemed a bit . . . but I thought he was fine. I knew his mum as well. They had a very close relationship. He used to like to go back to his mum’s and have tea and biscuits on the sofa.”
And of course, Joyce had good reason to be incredibly proud of her son. Alexander is credited with looking beyond fashion to create his clothes and his shows, which included collections inspired by Hitchcock’s The Birds, a show being held at the Conciergerie in Paris ( a chill dungeon where Marie Antoinette was held before her execution) and a floating hologram of Kate Moss. A true visionary, Alexander was often regarded as the ‘enfant terrible’ of fashion, with his anarchic ‘bumster’ trousers, the rumoured chalking of ‘I am a ****’ inside a jacket for Prince Charles and his reported ‘gruff’ manner, even with dear friends like Isabella Blow (who he marched to a cash point every week to pay for his first collection which she ordered, but couldn’t afford).
But beyond the controversy, beyond the shows designed to thrill and provoke, Alexander’s designers were breathtakingly beautiful. With his precise tailoring learnt from Savile Row, eye for great prints and sculptured dresses – his designs were not only adored by fashion editors, but by celebrities and fashion lovers all over the world. Everyone from Sarah Jessica Parker to Victoria Beckham, Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Emma Watson and Cheryl Cole have all worn his designs – from his gem encrusted armadillo shoes, to tartan print pencil skirts or sleek black jump suits with strings of pearls. He really was a designer for all seasons.
He managed the often difficult task of negotiating commercial successful alongside creative integrity, and in 1996 was appointed chief designer at Givency, and in 2001 he sold 51% of his own name label to Givenchy’s rival, Gucci. Alexander McQueen stores opened in New York, London and Milan, and in 2006 he launched a ‘ready to wear line’ along with a series of fragrances. In 2003 he was awarded a CBE, and for all his ‘anti established’ rhetoric he took Joyce to the ceremony with him, and in the same year was named International Fashion Designer of the Year, by the Council of Fashion Designers of America.
And of course, behind the brand was a person, a fiercely loyal and protective person – whether it was wearing a ‘We Love You Kate’ T shirt in the midst of the ‘Cocaine Kate’ controversy of 2005, or dedicating his first show after the death of Isabella Blow in October 2007 to her, Alexander was a person Daphne Guiness described as ‘generous without noise’.
A true individual, a designer who bought outrage, shock and beauty in equal measures, the world of fashion has suddenly become a slightly duller place.