Installation view of the Romantic Nationalism gallery, Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A

Alexander McQueen was one of the greatest designers that ever existed, who shaped the meaning of contemporary fashion with outlandish designs in theatrical shows. His creativity had no bounds and he was as fearless in his studio as in his personal life. We remember five moments that defined the iconic designer who would have turned 47 on 17th of this month.

The Early Days

Lee Alexander McQueen was born on 17 March 1969 into a working-class family from London’s Lewisham borough. Destined for an elusive future early on in his life, the designer became fast friends and comrades with famed fashion stylist Isabella Blow after graduating from Central Saint Martins. This helped launch his infamous career and introduced him to an elite social circle. Later, McQueen designed the wardrobe for David Bowie’s tours from 1996 to 1997, as well as the Union Jack coat Bowie wore on his Earthling album cover. The two worked together for over the course of a year communication only via phone calls.


The designer once said: “I am not interested in being liked”. McQueen did not design to please the public, he only intended to fulfil his personal dramatic visions. However, his dashing unconventional designs spoke differently as his peers lined up to laud them publicly. McQueen’s early runway collections developed his reputation for being controversial, which coined him with the nickname “l’enfant terrible.” His “bumsters,” a style of extremely low-rise pants, as well as the “Highland Rape” collection perpetuated McQueen’s notoriety as a bad boy and kept his name in the forefront of chatter.


“When I’m dead and gone, people will know that the 21st century was started by Alexander McQueen”


Installation view of ‘Platos Atlantis’ gallery, Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A
Installation view of ‘Romantic Naturalism’ gallery, Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty at the V&A




“I want people to be afraid of the women I dress”

 His Concepts

It was McQueen’s training at Anderson & Sheppard on Seville Row where his career in fashion design began, sparking a knack for razor sharp tailoring and using methods such as cutting and construction. His fantastical designs were anything but commercial. They embraced the designer’s love for theatrical imagery and his emphatic passion for the afterlife. Adorned with shells, crystals and feathers, every illustrious piece was fit for gothic royalty, making McQueen traditionally unpredictable. “This is why my shows always throw people completely”, he once said. “One minute I see a lovely chiffon dress and the next minute I see a girl in this cage that makes her walk like a puppet…”

Women’s Empowerment

The designer not only loved to put women in sky-high heels but also on a social pedestal. McQueen’s close ties with powerful women like Katy England and the close bond he shared with his mother were apparent in the designer’s creations as well his feministic attitude. “I want to empower women,” he said. “I want people to be afraid of the women I dress.”


McQueen made fashion erratic and he was never one to keep to himself; he regularly expressed unprecedented opinions verbally as well as creatively. His brutal honesty shaped his career and inevitably made him one of the illustrious fashion greats. Last year his memory was celebrated through an emotional exhibition entitled “Savage Beauty” at the V&A in London which evoked the spirit of the individualistic designer.  Prior to his death, McQueen said: “When I’m dead and gone, people will know that the 21st century was started by Alexander McQueen.” These words resonate today, and stay true to his continued legacy.

Emily Brennenstuhl

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