Friday, 12 February 2010

Vulnerable Creativity: Alexander McQueen obituary and evaluation

Just when the international fashion world is getting ready to present the autumn/winter 2010 shows (kicking off this weekend in New York), a dark shadow makes them a time of sadness rather than celebration.

Alexander McQueen’s suicide is a tragic reminder of the vulnerability and insecurity felt by all creative people and, over the last few years, hugely exaggerated for designers expected to produce more and more ideas, more and more collections, more and more public statements and appearances … They may appear to be gilded peacocks in a crystal world of privilege but, in fact, most designers are little more than desperate battery hens.

Lee McQueen was a highly talented man with a distinctive – and instinctive – creative approach. But he was as complex as he was clever. He glamorised women but he also victimised them. Few who saw them will forget the extraordinary shows he presented in London with the patronage of American Express in the nineties. He raised the bar for a dark theatricality that, if anything, became darker and more threatening to women when, under the aegis of Gucci, he continued to explore and exploit his demons – demons that seemed to intensify after the suicide in 2007 of his one-time muse, Isabella Blow. His was a strangely ambivalent creative sensibility: he seemed so often to hate the thing he so clearly loved. His romanticism (which produced some of the most beautiful clothes of the last 20 years) was always symbolically charred at its edges by an approach to beauty and women offensively brutal at times, as he presented them as predators and victims, hard and soft, human and insect.

Alexander McQueen cared passionately about his creativity. He banned me once for criticising a show and, although he allowed me back, I’m sure he never forgave. I think he always felt that my well-known championship of John Galliano made me put him in second place, and maybe it was so. They were similar in many ways. They shared a strong theatricality; they loved to shock (and delight); they both grew in stature once they were finally taken under the wing of, respectively, Gucci and LVMH. They were rivals for the hearts of fashionistas but I think future historians will bracket them closely together as fashion’s Michelangelo and Leonardo or Goya and Velazquez – but who will be which only time will tell.

Until then the fashion business, insanely predatory in its greed on all levels, should view the suicide of this sad young man as a cry for help from all designers as they burn themselves out in over-production and begin to hate and fear the thing they once so loved. There is a price that is too high to pay for even the most beautiful of creations and the healthiest of sales figures, as Lee McQueen’s shockingly untimely death has made clear to even the most bone-headed members of the fashion world.


  1. I agree that creative types can be insecure and vulnerable - and being at the top of ones profession is usually a very lonely place. And, yes, the fashion industry is as fiercely competitive and pressurized as it is fickle and bitchy.

    However, your eloquent blog also touches on something far more curious: Alexander McQueen's relationship with and treatment of women. To me, the saddest thing is that McQueen's death came only a few days after that of his mother. Whatever the significance of this, or the reasons for his suicide, one can only hope he has now found his peace.

  2. A sad blow for fashion. May God rest his soul, but I am sure that wherever he ends up, the angels or demons will be relishing their new designer in residence and enjoying their new robes.

  3. I don't think one should look to finding meaning in the why; grief and loss is a potent force and whilst most of us creative types suffer the dreaded am dram affliction, that doesn't mean pressure is the button pusher.

    But I do like your comparison and think you are very right about the current greed.

  4. Alexander McQueen's passing is a severe loss not only to the world of fashion but to modern culture at large, of which he was an integral and influential part. Nevertheless, his legacy will live on - exquisite creations, inspiring new generations of design talent, and enabling people to dream.

    I feel truly blessed to have witnessed so much of his gift in his short life.

    During the time I worked with LEE he never got carried away by the recognition and fame. Those were the early days. He was very generous of spirit and very close to his mum and aunt.

    LEE was incredibly inspirational. It was a special time, the energy was cracking around. He had a great sense of humour and everything was at top speed.

    I hope Lee is happy now that he can float till his heart is content in the big ocean in the sky.”