Alexander McQueen in 2005. Image courtesy of The Guardian, photographed by Martin Godwin
My first steps into the fashion world could not be described as tentative: in every sense I was placed smack bang in the middle of it, interning in the press office of the company which defined British fashion, Alexander McQueen. The experience was every bit I had imagined it to be, for better or worse – a sharp, sleek office of metal stairways and white walls, elfin models drifting through, manic sample send outs, the occasional cup of tea to the man himself.
To be in such physical proximity to that which had propelled him to global notoriety was nothing short of surreal: the bumster trousers, the white, spray-painted dress worn by Shalom Harlow, the carved wooden legs made for disabled model Aimee Mullins. The stuff of fashion legend. I have never been motivated by fast fashion: next season’s trouser shapes, on trend prints, the effectively meaningless information that makes up monthly glossy shopping pages. Lee McQueen always made fashion exist as spectacle, knowing that like art, it was something that needed to be responded to – executed in sometimes brutal and accusatory ways, loaded with reference and impossible to watch without reaction.
The first fashion show I ever went to was an Alexander McQueen one, which was the Autumn Winter 2009 show ‘The Horn of Plenty’ in a sports stadium on the outskirts of Paris. A retrospective of old collections, I watched with a huge, silly grin as ‘Dance Dance Dance’ by Chic pulsated out of the speakers followed by some twisted drum and bass, with frighteningly white-faced models with clown-like red lips stalked about a mountain of old props from past shows – the effect, as always with McQueen, was menace and beauty in equal parts. The wild cheers that erupted from the audience I found surprising; I later learned that they came from a fierce love that the normally reserved fashion crowd had for McQueen.
Fashion houses that work on such a large scale lose sight of a lot of things, make no mistake – but at Alexander McQueen’s heart was a man who worked with nothing but the raw feelings that he invariably rendered into daring, breathtaking beauty. He was not afraid to inform his personal life into his work: from horrific violence witnessed as a child, or the coral reefs in the Maldives seen on a snorkelling holiday translated into the shimmering prints and footwear of his most recent collection, Plato’s Atlantis.
Since moving onto other things, I have found it impossible to leave McQueen behind, and know that others who have found the same. Fashion can be an industry about wealth and connections, yet McQueen stood out as somebody whose position was realised by raw talent. The media’s intrusion into his personal life and issues is, of course, uncomfortable, but while his work always spoke for itself, there’s no denying we also loved what we knew of the man behind it, whose often devastatingly human spirit proved testament to limitless imagination and our own capacities to create.
- Lee Alexander McQueen – An Irreplaceable Inspiration
- London Fashion Week A/W 2010: Long Live McQueen
- Alexander McQueen: Genius of a Generation Book Launch
- Water Cooler Moment
- Exhibition: Alexander Heaton: The Horn That Matters