On March 17, 1969, British fashion designer Alexander McQueen was born.
McQueen was the youngest of six children born to taxi driver Ronald McQueen and social science teacher Joyce McQueen in Lewisham, London. While in primary school, McQueen began making dresses for his three sisters and announced his intentions to eventually become a fashion designer. At age 16, he dropped out of school and began working on Savile Row, a famous area of London well-known for offering shoppers made-to-order men’s suits. After working for a few different tailors, McQueen finally moved to Savile Row to further develop his career in fashion. He eventually began working for costume designers Angels and Bermans and developed the theatrical and extravagant style he later became known for.
The blossoming designer moved to Milan for a short period of time and worked for designer Romeo Gigli. In 1994, he returned to London and enrolled in Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design, from which he received a masters degree in fashion design. His final school collection was inspired by Jack the Ripper and bought in its entirety by eccentric London stylist Isabella Blow. She has been credited with “discovering” McQueen and bringing him into the public eye.
His women’s designs became popular, with his pieces like “bumster” pants (pants with an extremely low-cut waistline) receiving considerable recognition. Shortly after graduating, he was appointed the Chief Designer for Louis Vuitton-owned haute couture house, Givenchy. McQueen worked for the house from 1996-2001, often pushing the limits of what people expected of the house and of the world of high fashion in general. His rebellious nature led to controversy. One famous incident was when McQueen used an amputee model in a Givenchy runway show, who walked down the catwalk with intricately carved wooden legs. Although he felt as though his talents were being held back, McQueen won British Designer of the Year in 1996, 1997, and 2001 – all during his time at Givenchy.
With his full potential yet to be untapped, McQueen was able to strike out on his own when Gucci bought a 51 percent stake in McQueen’s private company in 2000. He left Givenchy the next year when his contract with the house ended. McQueen was honored with British Designer of the Year once more and was named International Designer of the Year in 2003 by the Council of Fashion Designers of America. He opened stores in New York, Milan, Las Vegas, London, and Los Angeles, and his success skyrocketed even more with production of his fantastical and spectacular runway shows. One of his most famous shows was for his 2006 Fall/Winter line which included an ethereal floating hologram of model Kate Moss.
Although he celebrated incredible success and achievement in the fashion industry, McQueen began to suffer from depression after his long-time friend Isabella Blow committed suicide and his mother died of cancer two years later. Haunted by the deaths of these two important figures in his life, McQueen was found dead in his apartment after an apparent suicide.
McQueen’s story is one admired by many, as he came from a lower-class family and skyrocketed himself into international fame. His remarkable designs and runway shows have inspired designers all over the world, and his fashions are worn by many celebrity patrons to this day including the likes of Lady Gaga, Sarah Jessica Parker, Rihanna and more.