Editorial Feature

The Designs of Alexander McQueen

An insight into the "hooligan of British Fashion"

Lee Alexander McQueen, l'enfant terrible of the fashion world, was a British designer and couturier known for his rebellious creations and unconventional runway shows, which included visual surprises such as life-size Kate Moss holograms and models being spray-painted live on the catwalk.

His gripping designs were often autobiographical, taking inspiration from subjects such as his Scottish heritage or his passion for scuba diving, as well as from pop culture, art and history. They earned him a host of celebrity fans and his clothes were seen on the likes of David Bowie, Sarah Jessica Parker, Beth Ditto and Björk.

McQueen's often aggressive and violent themes polarized audiences, although largely the dark aesthetic of his designs made them memorable and thought-provoking.

The dress below was part of a collection called "In Memory of Elizabeth Howe, Salem, 1692" that was inspired by the infamous Salem witch trials, after his mother traced her bloodline back to someone who was prosecuted and hanged during the hearings. The cascade of golden beads trailing down the front of the design represents the magical power associated with hair in folklore and mythology.

McQueen was born in East London in 1969 and honed his craft while working as a tailoring apprentice on Savile Row, before going on to study at Central Saint Martins College of Art. He graduated with a collection entitled "Jack the Ripper Stalking His Victims.” The entire collection was bought by the influential fashion stylist Isabella Blow, who was integral in helping him launch his fashion career.

From here McQueen continued to push boundaries in everything he did: this corset caused controversy when he defied convention by choosing Aimee Mullins to model it, a double amputee who strode down the catwalk on intricately carved wooden legs. This made her the first amputee to ever be featured on the catwalk.

Many of his shows had narratives, behind them, such as his collection titled "The Girl Who Lived in a Tree", which was about a girl who descended from a tree to marry a prince and become a queen.

It was inspired by a trip to India, the era of Queen Victoria, and a huge ancient elm tree in the garden of his East Sussex home. The dress below is decorated with two appliquéd lace peacocks on the front and back, with peacocks being native to India and symbolic of war and royalty.

McQueen didn't only take inspiration from royalty: he dressed them too. During his appointment as chief designer at Givenchy, he crafted this two-piece suit that was worn by Her Majesty Queen Sirikit of Thailand. McQueen was known for his ability to create an impeccably tailored look after his time working as an apprentice on Savile Row.

The so-called "Hooligan of British Fashion" designed 36 collections for the label that he founded in 1992, and won "British Designer of the Year" four times between 1996 and 2003, as well as being awarded a CBE.

This tailored jacket was inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's 1963 film The Birds and was evidence of his ability to mix sophisticated silhouettes with darkly inventive concepts. Other themes in the same collection included roadkill and the illustrations of M. C. Escher, a Dutch graphic artist who made mathematically inspired woodcuts, lithographs, and mezzotints.

One of McQueen's most famous motifs was the skull, which can be seen on this "knucklebag." The skull appears often throughout his work, serving as a morbid reminder of mortality amongst the glitz and glamour of the catwalk. His iconic skull scarf became a celebrity must-have and was copied around the world.

The deep-red dress below is from McQueen's asylum-themed "Voss" collection and is made from red feathers and glass microscope slides. "Voss" was one of his most powerful and disturbing collections, evoking images of beauty, horror, and madness.

It was also his most celebrated and dramatic catwalk show, and involved a large glass box in which they audience were left to sit looking at their reflection for an hour. Finally, after an hour, lights came on and the show started. At the end, the walls of a giant cube at the centre of the stage began to lower to reveal a naked model on a chaise lounge with her face obscured by a gas mask, surrounded by moths. The glass walls then fell away and smashed on the ground.

His "Plato's Atlantis" collection at Paris Fashion Week in October 2009 was inspired by Darwin's evolution theories along with current global warming concerns, and encapsulated a fantasy of a future where humans had to evolve to live in water to survive. The designs featured computer-generated imagery suggesting reptilian markings while the color scheme changed from green and brown to blue and aqua. This was McQueen's last appearance on the runway, before his death in 2010.

Alexander McQueen's eponymous fashion house still continues today and you can explore the craftsmanship and intricate details in its designs in this 360 video:

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