The world has been hit by one tragedy after another in recent times, some so immeasurable they leave you reeling: Haiti, Michael Jackson, Lee McQueen. These disasters ask us to pause and evaluate the beautiful, fragile gifts of life. Certainly, they focus attention on the gift that cultural icons give to the world. Lee McQueen, founder and designer of Alexander McQueen Brand, was fashion royalty, but more important, a cultural maverick. His artistic expression was free-spirited yet articulate. Not many artists can tread the waters of the avant-garde movement and achieve critical success. We might not know about his design process. Some say his corsets and shoes are un-wearable and for all we know he could have white-knuckled his way through pre-season. But the result on the runway was beautiful and pure genius. I believe he was successful because he had the trappings and skills of the exquisite tailor coupled with the very elusive uncensored imaginative eye. He could push the envelope, think
outside the box.
McQueen is a metaphor for life. He was fearless in his approach and forward thinking. I see him as a rebel and a magician, uncompromising in his exploration and delivery of transformational work even when industry watchers were sometimes displeased with what he did. Fashionistas and socialites welcome his courage and have been photographed in his garments. His A-list of admirers is long and includes Naomi Campbell, Drew Barrymore, Zoe Saldana, Beyonce, Liv Tyler, Nicole Kidman, Rihanna, Kate Moss, Victoria Beckham and, of course, Lady Gaga and heiress Daphne Guinness, both of whom have defied the odds and gone out in his 10-inch heels despite nay-sayings of it being insane or at the very least, bone breaking. Since his death there has been a rush to get even the smallest memento of his collection, such as his skull-tattooed scarves. The skull is truly representative of the special energy flowing through McQueen’s work — graphic, defiant, natural, repulsive, yet appealing.
As an artist myself, I love the silhouette of his clothes. There is always something in his collection for me to applaud.
A woman could wear one of his pieces and feel like a lady yet a biker chick could keep her identity and be just as comfortable in the same ensemble. He was adopted by the youth but equally loved by the more mature, who would be appropriately dressed yet still feel youthful, even fanciful in his designs.
When I look back over his many collections, I see he truly understands the complexity and depth of the woman’s psyche and how that defines her desire to dress. McQueen’s designs were accessible and relevant but still on the edge. Take his jackets in his most recent collection, “Plato’s Atlantis,” tailored for business though clearly exposing the soft curves on the women’s body, constructed out of suit fabric that holds it shape and goes effortlessly from business to evening. But McQueen put his stamp on the shoulders, making the shoulder pads a little extreme, powerful, but not enough to take away from the feminine contour of the jacket. Yet there is just enough padding to allow the woman to secretly live the rebelliousness of his runway collection.
“Plato’s Atlantis,” his spring 2010 collection, is an undersea carnival, stirring the innate love of story within us all. He made it a priority to create the fairytale experience, to bring out the inner rebel without sacrificing the charm of his designs. He created the means for people to depart from their everyday reality and into fantasy and make believe. McQueen’s death is a sad loss. I can’t imagine the catwalk without him.
Lauretta McCoy is the Georgetown Media Group’s creative director for fashion.