The first year without Alexander McQueen and the many mysteries he left behind

Born in a humble family from working class parents living in public housing complexes of one of London’s suburbs, Alexander McQueen, or Lee, as he would be called by his friends, rose to fame at a staggering pace. His lack of money drove him to work and the years of his apprenticeships on Savile Row marked his career indefinitely. 

One year after his death, the prestigious Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (opening May 4th) pays homage to his legacy hosting a retrospective show of his entire career, starting from hs powerful, dark debut collection which he presented in 1992 when he graduated Central Saint Martin College in London. His designs were honest, bashing, powerful and most of the times with a dramatic twist. Despite his lavish theatrical fashion shows, especially while he was at Givenchy and later for his own label, McQueen himself was a modest and simple personality, avoiding at any cost showing off or putting up an ”attitude”. 

The secret of his creative genius was the rawness of his expression and the way he would not follow a certain trend. He was an innovator and a trendsetter, while his creations often has a very powerful message. His 2001 Spring Summer collection called Asylum best reflects on his early self destructive mind.

The climax of his career was the set up of his own label, which came as a recognition of his work and talent. PPR (Gucci Group)’s Francois Pinault was the one to do everything in his power to secure McQueen’s talent has a future and providing him with the financial security that allowed him to pursue his work at his own pace. 

Despite his growing international awareness and expansion into various product categories, such as sunglasses, underwear, bags etc, his company failed to grow at the pace that other similar labels within the Gucci Group did. Yet, in a way, Arnault never expected or wished that the Mc Queen brand would reach a certain target financially, the size of the business being irrelevant.

The pressure which he had felt was beyond his work and his business, it was a pressure coming from within his soul and mind. From his early days, being gay was a huge burden for McQueen, being ridiculed in school and among the youngsters in his neighbourhood. Later, his sexual identity became a constant source for his self-destruction, which usually leads to suicide in a high percentage among gay men. It was a sort of a ”slow suicide”. His mother remained to his death the most important person in his life. She was his lifeline, his source of stability and her presence was addictive for him. Knowing and feeling she was approaching her death, McQueen was devastated and depressed and began to isolate himself from the world. He also suffered a lot from the many failed relationships and he would talk of ”used and abused” about his relationships and dates.

The self-destruction process which he nurtured, included drugs, alcohol, sleeplessness and eating disorders. It was his way of punishing himself. Whether an early intervention with psychiatric and psychological support would have had any effects, yes, probably, to prolongue his life. The symbolic gesture of taking his own life, one day before his mother’s funeral will undoubtedly haunt all those who were close to him and the entire world of fashion. 

His legacy is beautifully represented by the tribute exhibition in New York, although many of his early creations could not be identified, some having been given by McQueen to his friends and those who worked for him, when he would not be able to pay them or, in some cases he destroyed dresses and re-use materials…

Oliver Petcu