Alexander McQueen: Through The Looking Glass.
It’s CULTED and welcome to a new episode of our HISTORY BLAST series.
Today we’re looking at the master of fashion Lee Alexander McQueen and how he created his legendary fashion house – and of course, we’ll be diving into the brand’s unforgettable shows and campaigns.
McQueen left school age 16 with just one O-Level and one A-level, both in art. He left for an apprenticeship on London’s legendary Saville Row, the home of bespoke tailoring, with Anderson and Sheppard, where he famously sewed “I am a c**t” into the lining of a suit tailored for Prince Charles.
After leaving A&S, he worked for a number of different tailors, designers and theatrical costume-makers, where he mastered historical pattern cutting, as well as the razor sharp tailoring that became a McQueen signature.
He then moved back to London to study Fashion Design at Central Saint Martins. He debuted his first MA graduate collection ‘Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims’ in 1992, which was famously bought in its entirety by former Fashion Editor of Vogue Isabella Blow, who swept the designer under her wing.
Blow encouraged Lee to use his second name, Alexander, for his brand and thus Alexander McQueen was born.
In 94, McQueen’s second post-grad collection got the world talking with his notorious ‘Bumster’ trousers which set the trend for low rise trousers on the high street, and grabbed media attention when pop queen Madonna wore them.
McQueen’s real breakthrough came the following year with his controversial ‘Highland Rape’ which addressed the abuse of his Scottish ancestors by British forces.
In 96, McQueen received the first of four British Fashion Awards for British Designer of the Year and in the same year the now creative director, Sarah Burton, joined the brand as design assistant.
In 2000, The Gucci group (now Kering) bought a 51% stake in Alexander McQueen but the namesake designer still retained creative reign and flagships opened in London, New York and Milan.
The following year McQueen made headlines yet again with his SS01 show. The audience were seated around a giant mirrored box evoking the setting of a mental asylum, while an avian theme brought to life the hope of flying over the cuckoo’s nest.
2003 saw the launch of the now signature McQueen skull scarf with the spring/summer show. A beautiful campaign shot by Steven Klein accompanied this collection.
Menswear was introduced to Alexander McQueen, in 2004, and in that same year Nick Knight shot the brand’s dance-inspired ‘Blade of Light’ campaign, which has become one of the photographer’s most famous works.
In 2006, two years later, the brand released a secondary line – McQ.
2008 brought another stand-out campaign captured by Craig McDean.
It wasn’t until the turn of the decade that McQueen reached his creative high beginning with his FW show, Horn of Plenty. More than just a catwalk, Mcqueen mocked the entire fashion industry, combining haute couture with trash.
SS10’s Plato’s Atlantis followed which has now become one of the most talked about fashion shows of all time. With Plato’s Atlantis, McQueen made history by broadcasting the first ever live-streamed fashion show, which saw reptile-skin-patterned dresses, and breath-taking kaleidoscopic looks. The show also saw the premier of Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’, and history was made as the ‘Armadillo’ shoe hit the runway shocking both fashion critics and the general public.
But sadly this was to be Lee Alexander McQueen’s final bow as he took his own life just months after debuting the collection.
In May 2010, Sarah Burton took over as creative director, after working with McQueen for 14 years. She had some very big shoes to fill but 10 years later the brand is still going strong.
The following year Burton designed the lace wedding dress worn by Kate Middleton when she married Prince William.
In the same year the house released this captivating campaign for autumn/winter shot by David Sims. David Sims also shot the house’s next campaign which was a psychedelic pastel fantasy.
For AW13, a heavily pregnant Sarah Burton shocked the fashion world sending just 10 looks down the runway making for a brief but fantastic collection.
SS14 brought another stand-out campaign for the house featuring Kate Moss, photographed by David Sims. Kate returned again last year for a campaign which exemplifies where Alexander McQueen stands today – a sophisticated avant-garde fashion house.
That’s all for this week’s episode.
Let us know your stand-out Alexander McQueen moments below.
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See also: A HISTORY OF BALENCIAGA THROUGH THE LENS