“Give Me Time and I’ll Give You a Revolution” : The History of Alexander McQueen April 19 2022

I spent a year in New York studying decorative art and design at the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum through Parsons The New School for Design. One of the perks of being affiliated with that (fabulous, amazing, incredible, insert-your-favorite-adjective-here) institution was free admission to many of the museums in the city—of which there were a lot. I spent a good portion of my year there wandering in and out of the amazing museums the city has to offer, but I always found myself returning most to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Maybe it was the varied and interesting collections, the sheer size of the building (it’s impossible to see everything in one day), or the fact that it was mere blocks from the Cooper-Hewitt and steps from Central Park—I just loved it. So you can understand that I was beyond intrigued when the Met announced its retrospective exhibit on Alexander McQueen—who had passed away in February of 2010—to open in May of 2011. I eagerly went up the big marble steps of the Met during the exhibition’s opening week and joined the throngs of people—no exaggeration there, we were all shoulder-to-shoulder shuffling through—entering the halls. And I got in there…and it was amazing. There are some things in life that elicit an emotional response you’re not prepared for, and for me, that exhibit was one of them—maybe it was being this close to a pair of beautiful, sparkling Armadillo shoes? As talented and creative and appreciative of McQueen’s work as the curators of that show must have been, they were lucky they had the collections they did to showcase. How can one piece together a collection of Alexander McQueen clothing, shoes, accessories, video, and commentary without the results being amazing?

In my mind, Alexander McQueen was one of the ultimates. He was stunning and captivating, wildly creative, and stunningly beautiful. On the darker side, he was shocking and raunchy and disturbing. (Like many of the creative geniuses of history, that duality and dark side was reflected in his personal life, as well.) He practically used every single type of material imaginable, and sculpted ordinary things into objects of desire and silhouettes that had never been explored before. Want a big, bold, I-can’t-fit-through-the-doorway-with-this-hoopskirt/headpiece/protruding horns look? You go to McQueen.

Born in London in 1969, Lee Alexander McQueen was the youngest of six children. When he was 16, he left school to pursue an apprenticeship with a well-respected tailor on Savile Row. He eventually finished a Master’s program in Fashion Design at Central Saint Martin’s, and showed his MA collection in 1992. The entire collection was bought by the English magazine editor and Philip Treacy muse Isabella Blow, marking the beginning of the duo’s friendship. Just four years later, McQueen was named Chief Designer of Givenchy (taking the place of John Galliano), where he would stay until March of 2001, when he launched his own line.

Alexander McQueen

McQueen’s runway shows were unconventional, often incorporating the unexpected. In his spring/summer show in 1999, McQueen sent model Shalom Harlow down the runway in a plain white cotton muslin dress belted at the top with a tulle underskirt to stand on a rotating circular platform—mechanical robots sprayed paint all over the dress in an abstract pattern. According to McQueen, it took a week to program the robots—but it was a week well spent, in my opinion. Two years later, McQueen named his spring/summer show VOSS—the audience was seated around a giant mirrored cube that was lit in such a way that until the show started, they were unable to see anything but themselves. When the show did finally start (reportedly late on purpose), the models walked around an interior darkened cube inside of the larger cube—the finale included the glass walls of that interior cube descending and smashing to reveal a nude model (Michelle Olley) laying on a chaise lounge with a gas mask-like aperture on her face.
McQueen Autumn/Winter 2008-2009 RTW

Alexander McQueen lost the battle with his personal demons and committed suicide in February 2010. His funeral was attended by many of fashions biggest players—Kate Moss, Anna Wintour, Sarah Jessica Parker, Stella McCartney—and included some 2,500 invited guests. Sarah Burton, the McQueen fashion house’s head designer for womenswear was promoted to Creative Director after McQueen’s death, a position she holds today. While it is undeniable that the fashion world was dealt a blow with McQueen’s death, Burton has continued the creative direction the fashion house began, and routinely comes out with stunning pieces.

written by Heather Cox for Rice and Beans Vintage