Everything We Never Knew About Alexander McQueen, the Late Designer of the Line Kate Middleton Always Wears
By Amy Lee
Ann Ray/Courtesy of Bleecker Street, Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
The name Alexander McQueen is and will be synonymous with high fashion forever. The award-winning designer's incredible talent in creating unforgettable clothes and accessories of impeccable and unexpected craftsmanship that defied the traditional notion of beauty still make bodies shudder. His theatrical runway shows intentionally pushed the envelope with controversial storylines, designs and characters that often delved into subjects of sex, violence and mental illness, which made the world feel uneasy -- and McQueen wouldn't have it any other way.
“I don’t want to do a show that you walk out feeling like you’ve just had Sunday lunch," McQueen said. "I want you to come out, either feeling repulsed or exhilarated as long as it’s an emotion. If you leave without emotion then I’m not doing my job properly, so that’s that.”
This is one of the many immortal words spoken by the British designer in the new documentary McQueen. Directed by Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui, the film dives into McQueen's life from the start of his career as a defiant student at the prestigious Central Saint Martins school in London to his tragic death in February 2010 at the young age of 40.
Three months after his suicide, Sarah Burton took the reins as the brand's creative director, who notably dressed Kate Middleton for her 2011 wedding to Prince William, and the Duchess of Cambridge has worn the label on numerous occasions since as her go-to brand. Many A-list stars from actresses to supermodels have donned McQueen's original couture pieces on the red carpet including Sarah Jessica Parker, Keira Knightley, Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell. Lady Gaga had a brief friendship with the designer. The songstress sported the iconic bejeweled oceanic-inspired number with the famous armadillo shoes in the "Bad Romance" music video from the spring/summer 2010 Plato's Atlantis collection, McQueen's last before his death.
Divided into five chapters or "tapes" based on his pivotal, career-making collections, the doc is not just for fashion lovers -- it's a thrilling retrospective and celebration of a fascinating virtuoso who broke the rules of conventionalism and left an inimitable legacy behind (the extremely popular posthumous Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2011 broke records). Through archives, never-before-seen home videos and interviews with family, friends and collaborators, McQueen is an intimate and mesmerizing portrait of a mighty yet fragile artist who designed for his life as he constantly battled his dark past, loneliness and immense pressure as the genius that he was.
Here are the things we've learned about the late legendary designer from the film.
Came from humble beginnings
Born Lee Alexander McQueen, the designer was always entranced by clothes from a young age. He wasn't the best student academically, but always enjoyed art and explored fashion design. His father was a cab driver and mother was a teacher, whom he was very close with. He was the youngest of six children and grew up in east London in the working-class town of Stratford.
Started his career as an apprentice in London's Savile Row
After dropping out of school at age 16, the young McQueen became an apprentice at Savile Row, the premier destination for bespoke men's tailoring, where his exceptional technique in pattern making and tailoring shined. After a short stint in Milan as the assistant to Italian designer Romeo Gigli, McQueen enrolled in the prestigious Central Saint Martins (alumni include John Galliano, Stella McCartney, Christopher Kane and Phoebe Philo) where he presented his first show inspired by Jack the Ripper in 1992, introducing his excessive, emotional productions to the world. This immediately caught the attention of London's eccentric fashion editor, Isabella Blow, who would become McQueen's dear friend, mentor and muse.
Was the creative director of Givenchy for five years
Every fashion giant came knocking on McQueen's door as he rose to stardom with his irreverent shows and one-of-a-kind spectacular designs. He defined '90s fashion and pop culture with his boundary-breaking creations made from untouched materials like plastic, rubber and foil and sending down bum-exposing pants and suits ran over with tires down the catwalk. Following his iconic shows like Highland Rape, in which he introduced his signature Scottish tartan design, he was enlisted as the head designer of French haute couture house Givenchy in 1996, in addition to continuing his eponymous label, until 2001 when Gucci bought Alexander McQueen.
Dark stories and his own tragedies fueled his collections
McQueen constantly gravitated toward morbid, macabre stories, histories and artwork as inspiration for his pieces, which was apparent in both his clothes and runway productions. He embraced the beauty in the ugly, whether that was victims of violence, bandage-covered mental asylum patients or a war-ridden country. The British designer also battled his own dark past of being sexually abused as a child by his former brother-in-law.
He had a tight knit group of iconic muses
The London native had a company of many women who supported his talent. Blow, who discovered McQueen at his graduate show, was an integral part of his life, who also tragically died in 2007. The spring/summer 2008 line, La Dame Bleue, was dedicated to the fashion icon. The original supermodels such as Moss, Campbell, Karen Elson and Shalom Harlow walked in many of his shows. Hollywood actresses such as Knightley and Parker, who attended the 2006 Met Gala with the designer in matching red tartan ensembles, showed off his creations on the red carpet. British socialite and former cast member of Bravo's Ladies of London Annabelle Neilson, who unexpectedly died this month, was a close confidante.
Sarah Burton was his intern
The current creative director of Alexander McQueen was actually his intern! She was a student at his alum, Central Saint Martins, and joined the McQueen team in 1996 right before he started at Givenchy and became head of womenswear in 2000. Since taking the helm following his death, Burton has continued his legacy and brand. In addition to dressing Middleton, her creations have been spotted on Nicole Kidman, Felicity Huffman and Michelle Obama.