Monday, 15 February 2010

Alexander McQueen's Death: Some Further Thoughts

I was out of the country when the news of Alexander McQueen's death was made public so I had not read any press coverage of it (read my original response here). Arriving at Heathrow yesterday, I bought The Sunday Times and The Observer, both of which I had been told would carry a background story.

And so they did. The Observer, a newspaper that once employed writers of the calibre of AJP Taylor and commentators like Malcolm Muggeridge, had managed to drag up somebody who had once interviewed McQueen and had become a 'friend', and The Sunday Times had cobbled together a series of quotes from the same kind of 'friends', several of whom wished to preserve their anonymity. Neither piece said anything, really.

All of Alexander McQueen's real friends are so devastated by the shock that they are unable to talk to any newspaper, I am sure. How could it be otherwise? A suicide is a devastating thing because it makes those close to the person concerned feel complicit in the death, at least by default; the suicide of a young person is even more devastating because of the waste of a life, and the suicide of a talented creator with years of creativity ahead of him, in the natural order of things, is almost unbearably devastating for what we all lose – friends, acquaintances and strangers alike.

The facts of Alexander McQueen's life are simple. He was almost universally recognised as one of the great fashion creators of the last decade of the twentieth century, admired, if not always understood, by his peers of all ages and levels of fame. And yet, I feel a great disservice is being done to his memory by the sort of articles I have read. Alexander McQueen – or Lee, as it has quickly become obligatory to call him as a badge identifying how close one was to him (it was in fact only his real friends who ever called him that without self-consciousness) – was shy and even reclusive. He was never at ease in the limelight - one of the major contributing factors to his frequent gaucheries, which meant he said things in interviews that seemed harsher and cruder than he actually meant. Naively, perhaps,for somebody who was a world figure - and a revered one, at that - he wanted to remain anonymous and to enjoy a private life. 'Friends' commenting on him, his demons and his talent smell to me of doing nothing more than exploiting a tragic moment that has robbed us of a complex but boldly mold-breaking talent of extreme and unequivocal originality. Their vapid comments can be safely discounted.

Alexander McQueen was theatrical to the end and I have often felt that, had he come through a different educational system that would have provided the cultural basis he seemed to me to be desperately needing, he would surely have done something more creatively sustainable – and challenging – than designing clothes. Inside, there was a Diaghilev or even a Nijinsky trying to shock us into understanding his world – a world remarkably complete and entirely free of references to any other dress designer's work. Many said that, in order to fulfil his potential, he should be given a couture house and an unlimited budget. But for me he was too much of a Titan for that: working with clothes alone could never bring complete artistic fulfilment. I would certainly have given him the budget, but I would have added a theatre, a ballet troupe, an opera company and a team of athletes and then watched him soar to true greatness. I mourn the fact that, like Queen after Freddie Mercury's death, the Alexander McQueen label, whether or not it continues, can never be the same. The fire has gone, taking with it the excellence and leaving only the embers of the creative fireball that was Alexander McQueen.


  1. I adored the BBC2 series British Style Genius and posted this clip on which you commented and in which you feature, about McQueen:

    I too feel that many are claiming a false sense of closeness and banding about the name "Lee" too freely, but I suppose it is natural to want stake a claim to a person of such great talent and importance in the industry.

    The saddest thing is that the future generations will be deprived of what he had to offer. An industry devoid of McQueen has lost a little piece of what makes it unique. i agree wholeheartedly; the label without Alexander McQueen would lack the spark thats light the fuse.

  2. Your words ring true but they are almost unbearably sad to read on this bleak London day.

    The Luxe Chronicles

  3. How re-assuring to read a REAL and considered comment at last, rather than the vapid and rightly condemned posturings of the papers so far. I love the image of McQueen as Diaghilev. Yes indeed, what glories might have bee seen?

  4. nice blog n.n