Introduction: The History of Alexander McQueen
Alexander McQueen was a British fashion designer who, along with Viktor & Rolf and Christian Dior, redefined the industry. His career spanned over 30 years in which he created his now iconic pieces such as the skull dress that is worn by Madonna in her Confessions Tour, the sheer robes of Yves Saint Laurent’s Anais Anais collection and tapestry jackets for Gucci. However, McQueen is best known for his fashion shows that would feature models wearing his eccentric designs. McQueen has admitted to being inspired by watching horror movies (such as Psycho) and studying the work of artists like Francis Bacon, Pablo Picasso and Andy Warhol.
While McQueen has been hailed for his fearless approach to fashion, some of the designs are seen by critics as scandalous and thought-provoking. One of his most infamous shows took place in 2003 at the Paris Fashion Week. The gothic themed exhibit featured models in a range of disturbing outfits including one dressed as a bee, another with an entrails-inspired skirt, and one that was covered in wax with crows perched on her head. The show was met with both criticism and praise – with some particularly praising the daring ideas of the collection. However, McQueen has been criticized for not wearing his clothes himself. He was a fan of designer Vivienne Westwood and even wore her look in the 1999 film The Mummy. McQueen was known for wearing his own designs for his runway shows but found it difficult to wear them afterwards as he found them too uncomfortable to wear.
The Origin Story of Alexander McQueen’s Iconic ‘White and Red’ Colourway
McQueen was born in London on 21 July 1969. His family, originally from Jamaica, moved to England when he was 10-years-old. McQueen was a rebellious child and dropped out of college at the age of 20 to pursue his passion for fashion. He trained as a dress designer at Central Saint Martins and Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London. After working at the fashion house of Helmut Lang and John Galliano, McQueen opened his own business in 1992 and showed his first collection a year later. These collections were dark, Gothic clothing that were a departure from the bright colours that were popular at the time. The collection was well received by the press but was a sell-out with shoppers. From this point, McQueen’s fashion label grew rapidly and he soon opened his own studio.
The first collection from this studio was shown in Paris in 1996 and the collection was highly praised by the fashion press. Brigitte Bardot, a fan of the designer’s work, commissioned him to design an evening gown for her 56th birthday.
Following McQueen’s success on the runway, he began to expand his business into other areas such as interior design. In 2006, McQueen’s business was estimated to be worth $87m.
In 2010, McQueen died suddenly at the age of 40.
The Evolution of Alexander McQueen’s Fashion
McQueen continued to refine his designs and showed a series of them in the late 1990s. His most famous clothes at this time were the black drapes he designed for Dior, which were so popular that he used them for his second collection for that house. McQueen’s earliest collections included satin trousers with long scarves knotted around the ankles and tight tops with lace collars, both of which became a recognizable look in contemporary fashion. However, it was his exaggerated and fetishistic pieces such as silver bustiers, high heeled shoes and capes that were most iconic. McQueen became known for his edgy designs with a distinct horror movie feel. He also produced a series of sneakers with Nike and was tapped by both the Metropolitan Opera House and the Ballet Russes to design costumes. McQueen was also friends with Princess Diana at this time and designed a wedding dress for her. McQueen’s designs were often dark, macabre and enigmatic. He’d frequently use the same silhouette over and over again.
In the 1990s McQueen was considered one of the most important artists in fashion and his work became a common theme in high fashion magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and Interview along with other titles. In addition, fashion designers such as Scott Schuman, Marc Jacobs, Hussein Chalayan and Karl Lagerfeld presented their own interpretations of his work. McQueen was even called “the most influential person in fashion” by the British Vogue.
McQueen became the focus of a documentary produced by Andy Warhol in 1995 entitled “Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty” which documented important events of the designer’s career up to that point including his time with Jaeger, Carol’s Daughter and Dior. The film showed a few of the McQueen’s most famous costumes such as his red and black dress with thigh-high boots that he designed for a performance at the Royal Opera House in 1992.
The Style of Alexander McQueen Versus Other Designers in His Time
Contrary to popular belief, McQueen was not the first designer to create extreme costumes that were worn by models. This went considerably further back in time than even Alexander McQueen. In the 1960s and 1970s, Japanese manga (comic books) had inspired the clothing of fashion designers like Rei Kawakubo of Comme Des Garcons and Yohji Yamamoto of Yohji Yamamoto. The designers in the 1990s and early 2000s were also influenced by horror movies and other sources of the macabre. Jean Paul Gaultier designed scandalous costumes for his models for his Le Smoking collection that were based on a tuxedo suit worn by James Bond. Christian Dior’s Haute Couture collections for women also featured sexy, ostentatious dresses and gowns that had outrageously large trains.
The cultural aspects of fashion in the 1960s and 1970s comprised of a mixture of the macabre, horror, and mystery. The fashion for extreme costumes in this time also stemmed from Japanese manga (comic books) which were popular at that time. Rei Kawakubo, founder of Comme Des Garcons, was inspired by the horror movies and Japanese manga to invent a new design style that she named “UNIQLO”. These designs were stark and simple with a restricted palette of primary colors. In the 1990s and early 2000s, stylists like Jean Paul Gaultier also took inspiration from horror to create their collections. The design style that they created focused on shocking the spectators with the ominous spooky feel of the macabre.
There is a difference in how the McQueen was inspired. He strongly believed in past Italian work but wanted his work to be more relevant to life and fashion today, not just another recreation of traditional design.
Evolution of Brands in Fashion’s Golden Age to Today
By the end of the 1990s, McQueen’s style had been widely imitated and his pieces were worn by models on runways in Paris, Milan and New York. However, he was never a ‘designer’ in the traditional sense of the word. His designs were not unique to him but were based on other designers that preceded him such as Rei Kawakubo and Yohji Yamamoto. While there were other designers in the 1990s who had their own signature style, McQueen was one of the very few that created a recognizable look and stood head and shoulders above his contemporaries. As a result, he was able to establish himself as an icon in fashion and fashion history. The ‘McQueen look’ eventually became an expression for extreme clothing with all sorts of embellishments like latex bustiers, lace collars and corsets.
The evolution of modes in the 1990s provided fashion with an opportunity to portray what was on trend and sell it back to the mass market. This trend of exploring new looks and styles sparked competition among fashion designers, who had each developed their own individual style which set them apart from their competitors.
McQueen’s ‘extreme’ brand of clothing was a pioneer when it came to the extremes of postmodernism in fashion. The British fashion industry has always had a tendency to be ‘fashionable’. The British fashion industry has its own sense of style that is very different from that of other countries. The excessive use of ornamentation and embellishment on the dresses gave them an extravagance which was not seen in other countries. This difference in styles gives McQueen’s brand an identity of its own.