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Wednesday 23 May 2018

The bad boy rebel who had real style

Alexander McQueen who was found dead on Thursday aged 40 after apparently hanging himself, was celebrated as the "bad boy of British fashion" -- an aggressively talented tailor who refused to compromise and was all-the-more lauded as a result.

His genius with clothes catapulted him out of a grim East London estate into a world of glamour and wealth. But McQueen never truly shrugged off his outsider status. He was always at his best when in confrontational mode: setting new trends -- such as his infamously low-slung "bumster" trousers -- or daring to use textiles printed with the image of a man being executed in the electric chair.

When Kate Moss was engulfed in a drugs scandal in 2005 and was disowned by many in the industry, McQueen swam against the prevailing tide in typically swift and innovative style. Rather than snub Moss, he projected a three-dimensional hologram of her at his next Paris show.

He freely admitted to having "learned nothing" at school. But by the time he was 24 he was acknowledged as a "technically brilliant" tailor. Rebellion and precocity combined in him to sometimes curious effect: as a young cutter he famously scrawled a graffito with his chalk into the lining of a jacket destined for the Prince of Wales. A decade later, in 2001, he won his third British designer of the year award. It was presented by the Prince of Wales.

Lee Alexander McQueen was born on March 17, 1969, in the East End of London, the youngest of a taxi driver's six children. As a child he was interested in fashion, and when he was three drew a picture of Cinderella "with a tiny waist and a huge gown"on his sister's bedroom wall.

In 1986 McQueen saw a television report about a shortage of tailoring apprentices, walked into Anderson & Sheppard in Savile Row, which made suits for Mikhail Gorbachev as well as the Prince of Wales, and was offered a job on the spot.

He then moved along Savile Row to the tailors Gieves & Hawkes before working for a time at the theatrical costumiers Angels & Berman. He gained more experience as a pattern cutter with the Italian designer Romeo Gigli before, in 1992, setting up his own label after completing a postgraduate course at Central St Martin's College of Art and Design, paid for with a £4,000 loan from an aunt.

His big break came in 1994, when he was "discovered" by Isabella Blow, the eccentric, aristocratic former fashion editor of Vogue. She decided to buy the entire collection, purchasing one item a month and paying him £100 a week.

In 1996, the year he was first named British designer of the year, McQueen was appointed chief designer at the traditional Givenchy -- which for years had clothed Audrey Hepburn -- where he remained for five years.

His collections were not always greeted with applause, and critics said that in trying to meet the Givenchy style McQueen had, for once, compromised, and failed as a result.

McQueen simply said that producing six collections a year was too much if one was to achieve real innovation. "Give me time and I'll give you revolutionary," he said, admitting that Givenchy was "the biggest mistake of my life".

As his contract came to an end, however, Gucci acquired 51 per cent of the Alexander McQueen label, of which McQueen remained creative director.

Backed by a second major contract, McQueen had become the enfant terrible of the London fashion scene --talented, generous, and shy in private, gap-toothed, foul-mouthed and chippy in public. Fashion editors hailed him as provocative and edgy.

Yet McQueen was not blind to commercial opportunity, launching scents called Kingdom and My Queen, and in 2005 collaborating with Puma to create a new line of trainers. By 2007 he had boutiques in New York, London, Milan and Las Vegas.

But McQueen did not seek to profit from celebrity connections: "I can't get sucked into that celebrity thing because I think it's just crass." In April 2008, as he was opening a flagship store on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, he said of the socialite Paris Hilton: "If she comes past the shop, hopefully she'll just keep walking."

A decade earlier he had declined to invite Victoria Beckham to his London show, saying that her presence would detract from the appearance on the catwalk of Aimee Mullins, the Paralympic athlete who as a child had had both legs amputated from the knee down; she was due to show hand-carved cherry wood prosthetics designed by McQueen.

In 2000 (in the absence of civil partnerships) McQueen "married" his boyfriend, George Forsyth, a documentary film maker, in an unofficial ceremony aboard a yacht owned by an African prince and moored at Ibiza; Kate Moss was a bridesmaid. The relationship had since ended.

Alexander McQueen's mother, Joyce, died on February 2, and her death is thought to have profoundly affected her son. He remained passionate about fashion to the end: "Clothes and jewellery should be startling, individual. When you see a woman in my clothes, you want to know more about them. To me, that is what distinguishes good designers from bad designers."

Refreshingly, however, he never lost his sense of perspective: "At the end of the day, it's just clothes," he would say. "Know what I mean?"

Irish Independent

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