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Alexander McQueen is regarded as the most significant British fashion figure. Beginning his career at the tender age of 17, McQueen was able to accomplish great success at an early age and by the time he was 27 years old, he had gained worldwide repute for his fascinating designs. For two decades, he was able to intrigue the fashion world with his novel designs and gain many awards for his efforts.
McQueen was born on March 17, 1969 in London’s East End to Ronald and Joyce McQueen. From an early age, McQueen demonstrated his exceptional tailoring skills, designing dresses for his siblings while still a child.1 McQueen was openly gay since childhood and this caused him to be bullied and teased at school. He quit school after his O levels and proceeded to seek an apprenticeship in fashion.
McQueen’s career in the fashion world started when he started training in London’s legendary Savile Row, which is the de facto home of bespoke tailoring, at the age of 17. While here, he gained the skills of bespoke tailoring and his mastery with needle and thread allowed him to execute avant garde designs with an exceptional craftsmanship.2
The apprenticeship at Savile Row was crucial for McQueen since the experienced he gained here helped him gain a reputation on the international fashion scene.
McQueen graduated from the Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design with an MA in Fashion design in 1992. His graduation collection based on Jack the Ripper and Victorian prostitutes dealt with the themes of sex and death and it proved to be a successful show that catapulted McQueen to the public scene.
Knox notes that McQueen’s humble upbringing in London’s East End made him something of an outsider in the fashion world.3 As such, a significant encounter in McQueen’s life was his meeting and subsequent friendship with the style guru, Isabella Blow.
Miss Blow purchased McQueen’s graduation collection and proceeded to act as his mentor. Blow helped McQueen gain a commercial footing and introduced him to key industry players.
Alexander the Designer
The fashion shows that McQueen engaged in through the mid 1990s helped to propel him into the international scene and mark him out as an accomplished designer. Through these series of spectacular fashion shows, McQueen developed his aesthetic and gained attention from the international community.
Knox declares that Alexander McQueen set himself apart from other fashion designers such as Christian Dior or Yves Saint Laurent by coming up with designs that bust out of the commercial confines and reinvented the role of fashion in society.4 This declaration is supported by the fact that McQueen’s designs were iconic and inspired the wearer to epic artistic proportions.
McQueen’s initial collections were Victorian in inspiration.5 However, this first collection drew on the dark side of the era instead of the picturesque representation that many designers emphasized on in their works. The most common themes in McQueen’s work are sex, death, and commerce and how the three intertwined.6
His obsession with such themes led to McQueen being often accused of misogyny since his designs objectified his models in a twisted sexual manner. McQueen early work attracted shock and horror amongst the viewers. In his first show in March 1993, the designer’s models were scantily dressed and appeared battered and bruised.
In the next show in October of the same year, McQueen presented models in Edwardian jackets splattered with blood and dirt. Due to the grim nature of his work, the Independent newspaper titled his work as “McQueen’s Theatre of Cruelty”.7
In the course of his career, McQueen won a number of prestigious awards for his skill as a fashion designer. He was named “British Designer of the Year” for four times during his career, a record that few designers achieved.
The 2003 was especially significant for McQueen for it was during this year that he was appointed Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. In the same year, the prestigious American fashion association, Council of Fashion Designers named him “International Designer of the Year”.8
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Alexander McQueen’s life came to a premature death following his suicide on 11th February 2010. Addley speculates that the fashion icon’s suicide may have been precipitated by the death of his adore mother nine days before.9 Throughout his Career, McQueen was able to gain a reputation as a skilled tailor and a creative designer.
His work inspired a generation of designers who cite this fashion genius as their most significant influence. Alexander McQueen will continue to be remembered as a fashion genius and his work will continue inspiring many people for decades after his death.
Addley, Esther. “Alexander McQueen’s death mourned by fashion world.” The Guardian. 12 Feb. 2010. Web.
Brown, Chip. “The Kids are all right.” New York Magazine 30, no. 32 (1997): 110-116.
Evans, Caroline. Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity & Deathliness. Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2007.
Gleason, Katherine. Alexander McQueen: Evolution. Boston: Race Point Publishing, 2012.
Knox, Kristin. Alexander McQueen: Genius of a Generation. London: A & C Black, 2010.
Quinn, Bradley. Techno Fashion. NY: Berg, 2002.
Vogue. Alexander McQueen. Web.
Watt, Judith. Alexander McQueen: The Life and the Legacy. NY: Harper Collins, 2012.
- Judith Watt, Alexander McQueen: The Life and the Legacy (NY: Harper Collins, 2012), 43.
- Vogue. Alexander McQueen.
- Kristin Knox, Alexander McQueen: Genius of a Generation (London: A & C Black, 2010), 7.
- Katherine Gleason, Alexander McQueen: Evolution (Boston: Race Point Publishing, 2012), 23.
- Caroline Evans, Fashion at the Edge: Spectacle, Modernity & Deathliness (Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2007), 141.
- Chip Brown, “The Kids are all right”, New York Magazine 30, no. 32 (1997) 110.
- Bradley, Quinn, Techno Fashion (NY: Berg, 2002), 138.
- Kristin 7.
- Esther Addley. “Alexander McQueen’s death mourned by fashion world”, The Guardian, last modified 12 Feb. 2010.