On March 9, Alexander McQueen's Fall 2010 ready-to-wear collection debuted in Paris. Each medieval-inspired dress had something distinctly McQueen: There were billowing skirts, there was crisp tailoring, there were exaggerated silhouettes, there were fierce shoes.
There were 16 looks, each of them nearly finished at the time of McQueen's death on Feb. 11, 2010. The designer was 40.
In the 20 years he spent working in the fashion industry, McQueen changed the industry with his vision and innovation. He was unafraid to take risks, to do what no one else was doing--he was a rebel, "l'enfant terrible," and he was greatly loved.
Lee Alexander McQueen was born in London in 1969. He started making dresses for his sisters in his youth; in his teens, he took an apprenticeship in London's Savile Row, a shopping street known for men's bespoke tailoring. What he learned there translated to his future designs, both under his own name and at Givenchy, where he served as head designer from 1996 to 2001.
McQueen's hallmarks were many, and each, in its way, contributed to his bad-boy reputation. He favored drama, both in his creations and on his catwalks--models often wore dramatic or constrictive head pieces, runways were transformed into asylums and chess boards. He used color fearlessly--they were part of his stories, and an integral part of models' makeup, which was often key in completing the worlds McQueen envisioned. He used feathers and horns and hair as often as historical references. The results were usually a little disturbing, a little shocking.
"Nicey nicey just doesn't do it for me," he said.
For as outlandish as the clothing might have seemed, however, McQueen routinely made clothing that made sense in the real world, too. Low-rise pants, ubiquitous today, got their start early on in McQueen's career (at that time, they were known as "bumsters"). A skull-printed chiffon scarf McQueen made in the mid-2000s was snatched up by celebrities, reproduced by Main Street shops and is still being produced today. Cocktail dresses with bold prints and easy cuts and the lower-priced, more commercially styled McQ line bridged the gap between opulent gowns and party dresses.
Said Cathy Horyn, fashion critic for the New York Times, "I’ve done a number of interviews with Mr. McQueen over the years, since the period when he was living and working in Hoxton Square, when the brash boy of London fashion, the creator of the 'bumster' trousers, and I found him about as complex and beguiling as any human. He was enormously creative and intelligent--and funny and rude and fearless. He said what he thought--a rarity in the fashion establishment--and very often he could wind you up, toy with you, pull a bit of wool over your wide, innocent eyes.
"But he was the real: a genuinely talented man. Soulful, deeply English and, of course, dark."
Those shifting qualities were represented within collections and between collections, though always with that constant pushing-the-boundaries thread. Even the final small collection presented last month captured McQueen's qualities: "He had ordered fabric that translated digital photographs of paintings of high-church angels and Bosch demons into hand-loomed jacquards, then taken the materials and cut stately caped gowns and short draped dresses," Style.com's Sarah Mower said. "In its ornate surface narrative, that might read as a kick against the plain and restrained direction fashion is taking, but in their own way, the fluted, attenuated lines of his long dresses suggested a calm and simplicity."
Perhaps that quiet calm is most appropriate now.
McQueen will undoubtedly be missed, but he'll also undoubtedly be remembered.
L'Officiel Paris scans from the Fashion Spot.