“There is something sinister, something quite biographical about what I do—but that part is for me. It’s my personal business. I think there is a lot of romance, melancholy. There’s a sadness to it, but there’s romance in sadness. I suppose I am a very melancholy person.”
“When I’m dead and gone, people will know that the 21st century was started by Alexander McQueen.”—Alexander McQueen.
Alexander McQueen was the trailblazing maverick of modern fashion that the fashion world needed at the turn of the century. Coming up at a time when fashion seemed to be on its deathbed, he breathed fresh air into it with his abrasive, almost tortuous fashion shows that reimagined what it meant to put on a fashion show through the use of drama and extravagance. Making his shows a sort of performance art, McQueen was a shocking conceptual artist who wanted his audience to feel things—but what was at the center of it all was his master craftsmanship. Though audiences would often be surprised and sometimes shocked to disgust, no one could say anything about his incredible designs. Here are 41 fashionable facts about Alexander McQueen.
41. Cleopatra’s Eyes
MAC cosmetics is now one of the biggest players in the world of cosmetics, but it wasn’t until Alexander McQueen collaborated with them in 2007 that they came into fame. McQueen was the first fashion designer to work with the company and the collection he worked on for them was inspired by the legendary look of Elizabeth Taylor in 1963’s Cleopatra.
40. Brazilian Bombshell
Before she was the most famous supermodel in the world, Gisele Bundchen was just a young woman looking to make it as a model in London. It would be Alexander McQueen who would see the star potential in her and make her a star, by making her the centerpiece in his 1998 Spring collection show. At only 18 years old, she would put herself on the map and show the world the beauty of Brazilian women.
39. Amputee Model
Already one of the most famous and inspiring women in the world, Aimee Mullins would team up with Alexander McQueen to blow the fashion world’s mind. As a double amputee world-class athlete, Mullins had already forced the world to reconsider the possibilities of the human body, and when she walked down the runway of an Alexander McQueen show in solid ash prosthetic legs, hand-carved specifically for her in 1999, she extended the possibilities even further by beginning her modeling career.
38. Tag Team Icons
From their first show together until McQueen’s death, Mullins would be one of his greatest inspirations and muse. Along with McQueen, Mullins is now considered one of the cultural mavericks who blazed a trail into the 21st century and has been honored as one of the “Greatest Women of the 20th Century” by the Women’s Museum in Dallas, Texas.
37. Communication Breakdown
While working at the powerhouse fashion house of Givenchy in Paris, McQueen upstaged the snobbery that the city is known for by refusing to learn the French language. Since he was unable to properly communicate with his team of seamstresses, he would simply use the not-so-effective language of grunting to liaise with them.
36. Bus Station Shenanigans
Always the one to stage fashion shows in nontraditional locations, McQueen once held a runway show in the Victoria Coach Station in London. The bus depot cost a pretty penny to rent out and the show was a star-studded event. Costing around £70,000, the highlight of the event was the sight of ultra-successful models like Kate Moss and Jodie Kidd walking down the catwalk dripping wet as they were soaked by a sprinkler system.
35. Pissing Off PETA
PETA does not mess around. The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is known for their aggressive responses to celebrities who use animals in what they consider to be demeaning ways. After using a variety of animal and bird’s heads in a Givenchy show in 1997, PETA responded by dumping piles of animal guts at the doorstep of their Paris boutique. Doesn’t that send a sort of mixed message, guys?
34. The Discovery of Alexander McQueen
The famous magazine editor Isabella Blow was one of the people behind McQueen’s success, as she is credited with discovering him. After befriending a young Lee Alexander McQueen, it was her who convinced the talented designer to drop his first name, and simply brand himself as “Alexander McQueen.”
33. First Show Sales
Isabella Blow was a huge believer in McQueen and was one of the first people to see his supreme talent. After his first fashion show, she bought the entire collection he produced for only £5,000 and paid it off in an installment plan of £100 a week. This was the beginning of her mentorship, which would prove fruitful for the both of them.
32. Graduating with Flying Colors
The first show of Alexander McQueen’s career was actually a graduation project for his Master’s degree. That’s why it was so cheap for Blow to purchase, but it was still something special, as the collection was inspired by Jack the Ripper.
31. Jack’s Neighborhood
Having grown up in the neighborhood where Jack the Ripper’s murders occurred, McQueen used the serial killer as inspiration for his graduation collection, which was entitled “Jack The Ripper Stalks His Victims.” He also claimed that one of his relatives had rented a room to one of the victims.
30. Homage to Victorian Lovers
For his Jack the Ripper collection, he encased a lock of his own hair in each garment. In the Victorian era, lovers would exchange hair as a romantic practice, and this was McQueen paying homage to the tradition.
29. Dancing With the Fashion
It has been trendy for fashion designers to incorporate dancing into their shows, but it all started with Alexander McQueen. To McQueen, fashion shows were performance art, and he took his art to the next level when he brought in the famous choreographer Michael Clark to train his models how to dance ballet. This show, titled “Deliverance,” premiered in Spring 2004 and would set the stage for the future of fashion shows.
28. Church Fashion
McQueen’s 1996 show entitled “Dante” is what propelled him to stardom. Named after the Italian poet Dante Alighieri and inspired by his epic poem The Divine Comedy, the edgy fashion designer said that the show was about “war and peace through the years.” Critiquing the role of institutional religion in society, he purposely held the show in London’s 18th century Christ Church, which was designed by the famous Satanist, Nicholas Hawksmoor.
27. Crucifix Covered Faces
The career-defining “Dante” show, with all its images of war and famine, not to mention the sight of antlers sprouting from model’s heads, was such a hit that it was actually staged a second time for an American audience. The second showing was put on inside of an abandoned synagogue in the Lower East Side of New York City.
26. Walking Through the Wind
Inspired by nature and traveling, McQueen’s 2003 hit show “Scanners” dressed models in long, flowing kimono style dresses. The models would then walk into a wind tunnel, which blew back their dresses, revealing incredible silhouettes.
25. Sister Muses
The earliest memory Alexander McQueen had for his love of fashion was of drawing dresses across the walls of his childhood home when he was only three years old. As he grew older, he would fashion dresses for his three older sisters.
24. Pink Sheep
The youngest of six children, McQueen understood that throughout his life he was the “pink sheep” of his family. Aware that he was gay from the tender age of six, he wouldn’t come out of the closet to his family until he was 18 years old when the whole world found out at the same time, since he came out in an issue of i-D magazine.
23. Fashion Schooling
When he was only 16, McQueen had enough of school. Understanding that he wanted to work in fashion, he dropped out of school and went to work at the distinguished Saville Row of London. Taking apprenticeships at Anderson & Sheppard, then Gieves & Hawkes, followed by the theater costume house of Angels and Bermans, McQueen developed an esteemed reputation and the foundational knowledge of tailored design that would boost his career.
22. Movin’ On Up
After working on Saville Row, McQueen applied to attend the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Hoping to get in for an undergraduate course, he was instead enrolled as a Master’s student due to the strength of his portfolio.
21. Designing Bowie
After only a few shows and years, McQueen had created such a name for himself that the one and only David Bowie came calling. Bowie enlisted the designer to design his costumes for his tours during 1996 and 1997 before having him design the Union Jack coat which he would don on the cover of 1997’s Earthling album.
20. Bjork Calls
David Bowie wasn’t the only iconic musician known for their distinct fashion sense to seek out Alexander McQueen in 1997. Bjork was a big fan of McQueen and hired him to design the cover of her Homogenic album in 1997, as well as direct the music video for her song “Alarm Call” from that album.
1996 and 1997 were huge years for Alexander McQueen and his country noticed. He would earn his first two British Designer of the Year awards at the British Fashion Awards during these two years. He would end up taking home the distinguished honor a total of four times, with two more wins in 2001 and 2003.
18. Fashion Rebel
Due to the controversy that McQueen riled up at this runway shows, he was nicknamed “L’Enfant terrible” of the fashion world. He was also referred to as “the hooligan of English fashion.”
17. Underwater Armadillos
McQueen found inspiration in his passions. One of his biggest passions in life was diving and his favorite spot was around the Maldives. Scuba diving in the Maldives would later be the inspiration behind many designs, including his 2010 “Plato’s Atlantis” show, which would introduce his transformative Armadillo shoe to the world.
16. Streaming Fashion
Ahead of the curve, as he always was, McQueen’s Atlantis show was the first fashion show to ever be live-streamed online. However, the stream would eventually crash after Lady Gaga tweeted the event, and a surge in audience numbers brought down the servers.
15. Learning to Synchronize
Drawn to water, Alexander McQueen had participated in synchronized swimming as a youth and was the only boy in a sea of 40 girls on the local team.
14. No Discrimination
Though London is an incredibly diverse city with a lot of Indian influence, no fashion designers were using any Indian models. Alexander McQueen, on the other hand, did not discriminate, and he was among the first designers to use Indian models in the city.
13. Married on a Boat
Alexander McQueen would tie the knot with George Forsyth in 2000 in a ceremony on a yacht in Ibiza. Because the wedding took place in Spain, it was not actually an official marriage because same-sex marriage was still illegal in the country. It wouldn’t matter too much, however, as within a year’s time McQueen and Forsyth would split up. Yet they remained friends for the rest of McQueen’s life.
12. Dissing David Beckham
Suffice it to say that Alexander McQueen was not a fan of David Beckham. The famous footballer must not have made the best of impressions on the fashion icon, because he once publicly voiced his disdain for Beckham with the quip, “That man is vainer than the veins running through my dick.”
11. Nature’s Skin
According to McQueen, his biggest inspiration was not just animals, but their skins. In one interview he explained, saying that he was most inspired by “animal skins. Not so PC, but there’s nothing better than nature. Nature is a fabric itself.” Yet another reason to be happy that we’re on the top of the food chain.
10. A Peak of the Crack
We owe years of seeing Mickey Rourke’s plumber’s crack to Alexander McQueen. Hipsters and Britney Spears adopted the trend of low-rise denim jeans in the late 1990s/early 2000s after Alexander McQueen premiered his “bumsters” at a show in 1996.
9. Garbage Collection
McQueen was on the rise in 1993, and Britain made it known by displaying him at the British Fashion Council newcomer’s showcase that year. After the show, McQueen celebrated by going clubbing with friends, and simply tossed his collection of clothes into garbage bags and hid them near a dumpster before going out. Whoops. McQueen naturally forgot to retrieve the clothes that night and the next day scrambled back to the scene only to find that the trashmen had collected his collection with the surrounding garbage.
8. Encouragement From a Master
While working on his craft as an aspiring fashion designer, McQueen tried to get an internship with Margiela. Having the privilege of actually meeting the infamously reclusive Martin Margiela, McQueen was turned away by the avant-garde designer for being too good. Instead, Margiela encouraged McQueen to open his own company instead.
7. Automated Fashion
During a runway show in 1998, his 13th overall, McQueen brought out the robots. In order to make a comment on the movement towards the computerized production process of fashion, he had robotic arms surround the model wearing a tulle dress, and spray paint her.
6. Model Patience
Another of McQueen’s many iconic runway shows was his 2001 “Asylum” show. The production, featuring Kate Moss, was set up inside of a mirrored cube that doubled as a padded mental hospital cell. With the audiences sitting around the cube, the models would press themselves against the cube and look out towards the people surrounding them.
5. Sad Suicide
Though Isabella Blow was one of the great influencers of fashions direction at the turn of the 21st century, her celebrity waned, and she fell by the wayside. After falling into a deep depression upon being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she attempted suicide many times before finally being successful. Though there were rumors that Blow and McQueen had a falling out before her death, McQueen vehemently denied the allegation and dedicated his next show to her.
4. Tragic Death
Deeply depressed, Alexander McQueen would hang himself in his London home on February 11, 2010. Leading up to his suicide, according to a close friend, he had been “very unhappy” and “doing a lot of drugs.” Only nine days earlier, his mother, whom he was very close with, had died, which led to his spiral. That said, he had already been diagnosed with mixed anxiety and depression disorder. Prior to hanging himself, he also took an overdose of drugs.
3. His Last Words
With his body, McQueen left a suicide note which read “Look after my dogs, sorry, I love you, Lee.”
2. Charity Donation
McQueen cherished his dogs. In his will, he left £50,000 to his dogs in order to provide enough support and luxury care for them throughout the rest of their lives. He would also leave £100,000 each to four different charities, including Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in South London, the Blue Cross animal welfare, London Buddhist Centre, and Terrence Higgins Trust.
1. Haunting After Death Show
At the time of his death, he was about 80% done with a new collection. Many of the people who were in attendance of McQueen’s posthumous final show say that it was difficult to sit through the entire fashion show, as its medieval and religious undertones conveyed his obsession with the afterlife.