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.