Lee Alexander McQueen was born in London on the 17th of March 1969. He was a British fashion designer and one of the brightest fashion stars of his generation. He was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire and also earned himself the British Fashion Council’s British Designer of the Year award four times.

Early Life and Career

McQueen was born into a working-class family in London’s Lewisham area. His father Ronald was a cab driver and his mother Joyce was a schoolteacher. McQueen dropped out of school to later find work on Savile Row aged 16. Savile Row is a street in London Mayfair district famous for offering made-to-order men’s suits. He decided to further his career in fashion by working with theatrical costume designers Angels and Bermans. The dramatic clothing styles he experimented with at this place of work would greatly contribute to the distinguished style of his later independent design work.

McQueen began working as a pattern cutter for London-based Japanese designer Koji Tatsuno, aged 20. He then left London for Milan to become the Italian designer Romeo Gigli’s design assistant. He enrolled at Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design upon his return to London. He then received his M.A in fashion design in 1992.

He learned fashion design at Central Saint Martins, already a skilled tailor. His final project for his degree was inspired by “Jack the Ripper”. The whole collection was bought by English magazine editor Isabella Blow. She became a close friend of McQueen and a strong advocate of his work.

McQueen founded his brand in 1992 and his fashion house’s early collection developed a reputation for its shock tactics. The sinister nature of his concepts was the driving force of most of his runway presentations.


He gained massive exposure with his revival of low-rise jeans, dubbed “bumster” for his 1993 “Taxi Driver” collection, inspired by the Martin Scorsese film. This was his first collection after graduation and it was organized by the British Fashion Council for upcoming designers.

Spring/ Summer Collection

McQueen’s first professional runway show was in 1993 when he showcased his Spring/Summer 1994 Nihilism collection. The models looked battered and bruised in their see-through clothes and bumsters. This collection proved to be highly controversial, as it earned him the title “l’enfant terrible” as well as “the hooligan of English fashion”.

McQueen placed locks of his own hair in Perspex onto the clothes to use as his label for his early collections.

McQueen met Katy England shortly after creating the Banshee collection. She soon became his right-hand woman. She was his creative director for his fourth collection “The Birds”, which he titled after Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film about violent bird attacks.

The peaked and padded shoulders, elongated lapels, and cloud of printed swallows were deemed as ‘nothing short of perfection’.


McQueen’s 1996 “Dante” was shown in a candle-lit church in Spitalfields, London. Seated on the front row was a skeleton. He experimented with Denim and Victoriana as well as beauty and blasphemy in this collection. These were themes he would revisit time after time.

McQueen was named Chief Designer of Louis Vuitton only 4 years after leaving design school. It was a position which McQueen felt was creatively constraining him.


McQueen’s 1997 fall show ‘It’s A Jungle Out There’ referenced H.G Well’s novel, ‘The Island of Dr. Moreau’. It was a book about a vivisectionist who creates humanoids out of animals. The show revolved around a zoomorphic theme. McQueen made human hair resemble lion’s manes. He also used makeup to give a morose feline look to models that were dressed in animal skins, leather and acid washed denim.


The discomfort surrounding McQueen’s work as a topic of discussion is evident in the renaming of McQueen’s Spring /Summer 1998 Golden Shower show. It was renamed Untitled, as the sponsors were infuriated at the vulgarity of the former title. Male models wore tops in the form of corsets. Some female models walked the runway in corseted metal ribs, sheet tops and trousers all combined by a zipper at the waist. They were all dressed in white and treated to a golden shower that made their mascara run and their clothes see-through for the finale.

McQueen moved onto fire after having previously delved into the element of water. He employed several pieces aligned with this semantic field such as wild hairstyles and red contact lenses inhis 1998 Fall show. The show was named Joan, referencing the French martyr Joan of Arc. He closed the show with a model trapped in a ring of flames.


The spray painting of Shalom Harlow’s dress black and yellow by robots hired from a car manufacturing plant made McQueen’s show at the end of the spring/summer 1999 show one of the most memorable catwalk finales in fashion history. McQueen later claimed to have taken his inspiration from Rebecca Horn’s 1991 installation, High Moon, in which two guns shot red paint at each other.


The designers 13th show, named ‘No. 13’ was every bit as much of a performance as a fashion show. Harlow, a former ballerina, stumbled into the crowd, seeming to have surrendered completely to the force of gravity.

Another one of the show’s remarkable moments was when someone opened the show wearing a pair of wooden prosthetic legs. She was the paralympic athlete and double amputee Aimee Mullins. The legs were sculpted in the shape of Victorian knee-length boots, embellished with a Louis heel, pointed toe and a slim ankle.

The colour scheme of the “No 13” collection consisted most of neutral tones such as tan, beige and ivory. A variety of materials were used, such as raffia, balsawood, ruffled lace, and leather.

McQueen is one of the most conceptual fashion creators to clothe the runway in the early twenty-first century. He is credited alongside peers such as John Galliano with the return of artistry to couture in the 1990s. He continues to be celebrated for his love of tactile exploration and dramatic visual representations.

Fall Collection

“The Overlook” was the theme for McQueen’s 1999 Fall collection and is arguably his most poetic. The show was inspired by the book turned film “The Shining” and presented in a plexiglass box. The brilliant display of top-notch tailoring and intricate patchworked pieces included a laser-cut silver metal corset and a silver metal skirt.

During his career, McQueen featured in two V&A Fashion in Motion events. These were live catwalk presentations staged against the beautiful backdrop of the Museum. The first was in June 1999, displaying his Spring/Summer 1999 collection. The second was in October 2001, honouring the years of collaboration between McQueen and the jewellery designer Shaun Leane. McQueen’s reputation at the time was such that over 3,000 people queued at the Museum’s grand entrance, hoping to see the event.

Spring/ Summer Collection

McQueen’s 2000 Spring/Summer collection: The “Eye” drew inspiration from the Middle East, sportswear, and bondage clothing. The models made their entrance drenched in splashes of water set on a pier on the West side of New York city. Brazilian fashion model Gisele Bundchen was among them. She wore a tasselled and embroidered head covering with a metal palleted bodysuit. The astounding runway highlights portrayed showed soaring above spikes that rose through the water wearing burka-like shrouds. McQueen dropped his trousers through at the end of the show to reveal his stars and striped boxers with complete nonchalance.

Fall/Winter collection

The show was named after Eshu, after the Yoruba spirit. It paired African influences (neck rings) with Victorian (leg-of-mutton sleeves) to dramatic effect. The model pictured below was photographed in a dramatic, deconstructed acid-wash denim hoop dress from this collection.

Spring/ Summer Collection

McQueen’s 2001 Spring/Summer collection was named VOSS, after a Norwegian town well known for its wildlife habitat. This mirrored the theme of nature in the collection.

The VOSS show was a truly monumental event. The audience seated around a mirrored cube lit from inside, revealing itself to be a sanatorium. The collection had astounding range from gothic, theatrical pieces and mussel-shell skirts to chic pearly white cocktail dresses.

The psychiatric ward-turned-runway opened to reveal a corpulent nude woman. Her face was covered by a tube mask, surrounded by hovering moths. This  proved to be the climax of the show.

Autumn/ Winter Collection

McQueen’s Autumn/Winter Collection for 2001 was titled “Merry Go Round”. The mise-en-scene, colourful lights, the sound of children and some joyful mimes all died down and it became crystal clear that there was nothing even remotely candy-coated about his lewd carnival crashers.

Models were dancing and gyrating around the poles. They wore shiny patent-leather jeans and jackets, scalloped coats and skirts, tight-fitting leather pants and embroidered military jackets.

Gigantic stuffed animals, forsaken dolls, puppets, balloons, and ragged circus accessories began to appear as the frantic atmosphere began to settle down, followed by one of McQueen’s transcendental creatures pulling around a golden skeleton with her foot.

The Gucci Group acquired 51% of Alexander McQueen’s company in December 2000 and appointed him as Creative Director. The brand’s catwalk presentations were moved from London to Paris following the takeover. This began with the Spring/Summer 2002 collection “The Dance of the Twisted Bull” on 6 October 2001.

An abundance of carefully tailored, wearable clothes, came alongside his dramatic statement pieces. This proved Alexander’s versatility in being able to produce iconoclastic statements as well as commercially viable items.


For the 2002 ready-to-wear Fall/Winter, Alexander McQueen proved to Paris that his designs could stand on their own strength. The show was paraded in the shadowy medieval domed hall of the Conciergerie- a scene of a pack of confined wolves and the appearance of a lone figure clothed in a purple leather cape leading a pair of dogs. Some of his models exhibited tailored brown tweed strapped into variations of brown parchment braces. It was glaring that McQueen’s focus was on clothes and not theatrics at this point.

He brought out romantic flouncy skirts and exaggerated puffed sleeves for a superb finale. A dapper looking McQueen took his bow in a bespoke suit made by the Savile Row tailors, Huntsman.


Alexander McQueen had gotten rid of his melodramatic show tactics a little bit after joining the Gucci Group and losing 30 pounds. The most noticeable distinguishing quality of his 2003 Spring/ Summer Ready-to-Wear collection (Irere) was its concise, traditional, robust commercial appeal.

“The show opened with an underwater film directed by John Maybury that showed a girl in a torn chiffon dress plunge into the sea and appear to drown. However, this was not a poignant film of a lost innocent. Irere, meaning ‘transformation’ in one of the indigenous Amazonian languages, was to tell the story of the girl’s metamorphosis from shipwreck survivor to Amazonian princess, a tale of redemption and survival.” (Bethune)

Their appearance on the catwalk after the video was intended to convey the idea of survival and rebirth.

Inspiration Behind Spring/ Summer Collection

Mutiple gowns in Alexander McQueen’s “Irere” collection of spring/summer 2003 appear to be poetic renderings of a disaster at sea. While a similar dress appeared coloured like the plumage of a tropical bird, this gown of sand-colored organza recalls the mille-feuille ridging on the surface of a shell. The hem of the skirt, like the wavy lip of a giant mollusk, further emphasizes the seashell quality of the gown.


The eccentric collection consisted of brown leather corset vests and minis, worn with creamy chiffon ruffles, drapey dhoti knee-length shorts and Elizabethan doublets and ruffs. Diverging from a black sequence, McQueen burst out with prints and colours, and some major stunners in the form of floaty dresses in vibrant tie-dyes and jumpsuits in lime and electric blue.

The Irere collection was inspired by the Roland Joffe film ‘The Mission (1986)’, in which a Jesuit missionary in 18th century South America attempts to protect a native tribe from Portuguese forces. Alexander McQueen referenced the periods of European discovery as well as the great explorers like Christopher Columbus and Captain Cook.

McQueen pushed technological boundaries for this collection, projecting thermal images of models that were saturated with vibrant colours of the tropical rainforest onto the screen.

Perfume Line Release

He released his perfume line Kingdom in 2003 and McQueen in 2005 as well as a collection of makeup for MAC in 2007. It was inspired by the actress Elizabeth Taylor in her role as Cleopatra. He consistently worked with loyal, tight-knit collaborators to realise his visions. He worked with different mediums and artists from sculptors to plumassiers. From leather workers to embroiderers. McQueen also worked closely with the Galway born milliner Philip Treacy.

International Designer of the Year

Alexander McQueen was declared International Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America in 2003. He was also declared A Most Excellent Commander of the British Empire by the Queen of England. He also won yet another British Designer of the Year honour.


“Deliverance” is Alexander McQueen’s 2004 Spring/Summer Collection. The show was staged in the Salle Wagram – a nineteenth century Parisian dance hall – and was choreographed by Michael Clark over two weeks of exhaustive rehearsals in London. The narrative involved dancers, models, and audience that was deeply involved in celebration of charmingly glamorous clothes.

The girls entered dancing for all they were worth on the biceps of muscle-bound sailors and hunky hopefuls to open the show. McQueen’s signatures consisted mainly of intricate pieced tailoring and were softened with delicate inserts of lingerie. The show reached its apex when a lone dog-tired dancer in a silver sequined gown was whisked off by McQueen and his choreographer with a thundering applause from all in attendance.

McQueen’s 2004 Fall /Winter collection (Pantheon Ad Lucem) was stripped of all theatrics and the focus was purely on design. A parade of models amid nude-coloured outfits in tweed, double-faced cashmere, leather, jersey, and chiffon. This collection was also pared down to some of his signature shapes – cropped waist suits, jumpsuits, modelled hourglass coats.

McQueen’s strategic employment of a massive chessboard on which to display the ensembles, implies an analogy for the operations of the fashion industry. He took inspiration from the 1975 Peter Weir’s film ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’. By the time the 36 models had taken up their positions, all of McQueen’s signatures and silhouettes came into perspective; an impressive sight altogether.


For the 2005 Fall/Winter Collection, Alexander McQueen went to the sixties: Hollywood ball gown moment, Biker molls and sweater girls, great hair, great music, and an explosion of old-school glamour. More and more it became apparent that McQueen was catering to the demands of the fashion world, which was developing an increasing appreciation for more realistic, commercial pieces. Elvis continued to blare through the speakers, leaving the building without further comment.


McQueen’s grandiose signature tailoring had made a comeback in his 2006 Fall/Winter collection “Widows of Culloden’’. He honed on the contents of the “Highland Rape” show, which was at the beginning of his career in London, revisiting his Scottish family roots.


Only Alexander McQueen could pull off the exceptional workmanship of a show like this and it became a timely validation of McQueen’s unique strength as a showman designer.

An enigmatic puff of white smoke surfaced from nowhere and twirled in mid-air, inside a vacant glass pyramid. Kate Moss appeared. Her pale hair and arms trailed in a trance like an apparition of a vision that was a state-of the-art hologram. The quality performance and the stunning feat of techno-magic that ended the show will go down in history as one of fashion’s all-time highs.

In July 2006, the company launched a lower priced line McQ which carries men and women’s ready-to-wear and accessories and was targeted towards a youthful market.


McQueen’s 2007 Spring/Summer collection “Sarabande”. It was presented on the circular runway of the Cirque d’Hiver. The collection was inspired by a 19th century silhouette. It consisted of corseted dresses; bodice- fitted jackets. Also dresses of architectural marvel-some with hard. As well as hip-exaggerated hourglass casing which blossomed into lace-covered skirts.

A baroque chamber orchestra set up in the centre of the round, under a stunning chandelier gave enough background atmosphere to bolster the succession of gracefully detailed Edwardian, infanta dresses and McQueen’s sharp signature tailoring.


The picture on the left is of Tanta Dziahileva in a gown covered completely in real flowers.

As Belarusian model Tanya Dziahileva made her way down the catwalk, a trail of flowers was left on the runway as they fell off the dress. Of this McQueen said: “Remember Sam Taylor-Wood’s dying fruit? Things rot… I used flowers because they die. My mood was darkly romantic at the time”. Harper’s Bazaar, April 2007.

Fall/ Winter Show

At an inhospitable sports venue at the ends of Boulevard Peripherique, the Fall/Winter 2007 show began.

A grisly film began to play above the models’ heads. A film of nude women, swarming locusts, faces decaying to skulls, alongside images of blood and fire.

The subjects of religious persecution, paganism and witchcraft frolicked within McQueen’s darker creative vision. No one had objected to being disturbed or distressed by his performance. Attending a show of his, this was a given. The audience did object to the distance between them and the models. They felt that the point had been lost in all the distractions and the interesting clothes that did emerge could only be scarcely appreciated.

McQueen was very proud of breaking the traditional stamp of a successful designer. He was also known for not being shy about his lack of customary good looks or his lower-class background. The spook of death haunted McQueen with the suicide of Isabella Blow in 2007. She was a fashion icon credited for discovering him and recognising his talent. The designer dedicated his 2008 Spring/Summer collection to Blow. He also claimed that her death “was the most valuable thing [he] learnt in fashion”.

Spring/ Summer Collection

This collection was called ‘La Dame Bleue’. The woman that famously thrust his career from a student rack to a couture house. She religiously wore his clothes in combination with Philip Treacy’s hats. Both of which were incredibly over-the-top. This show stood the test when McQueen summoned on the clarity to show his skilfulness and flair when it comes to his cutting and draping, to show to an audience waiting to inspect and judge every detail.

He stood up to the task by running through all his archived experience. This included the Saville Row tailoring, combined with his knowledge of his couture experience and hand-crafted drama. The theme of birds, particularly feathers- symbolic of Isabella Blow held the show together. Altogether, McQueen honoured his mentor by pulling out all the stops to bring out the best in himself.

2008 Fall/Winter Collection

The fashion fiend worked for months in his studio for his 2008 Fall/ Winter collection after a trip from India. It was called ‘Girl Who Lived in the Tree’. With images of the Victorian era, the Duke of Wellington (Arthur Wellesley) and the images of the Indian Empire running through his mind, he transformed being involved with fashion into a magical adventure.


Alexander McQueen dazzled his audience with a story of a girl who lives in a tree and comes out of it in darkness to meet a prince and she becomes a queen. Whatever had provoked McQueen’s inspiration for this kind of designs, it went further than the mere interpretation of extravagant costumes for the sake of telling a story. It was a day when his excellence had shone at its brightest.

Spring/ Summer Collection

Alexander McQueen’s 2009 Spring/Summer collection, with its colours, details, and eased-up tailoring, look likely to be one of his sellable items. His silhouettes hardly changed from his signature frock coats, skinny-leg pants and hourglass shapes. Most of the dresses were extraordinary



McQueen’s flowing wood-print tailoring was impeccable, so also is his bright multicoloured all-over prints that was doctored to fit around jackets, leggings, and cocoon dresses.

Fall/ Winter Collection

For the 2009 Fall/ Winter season (The Horn of Plenty), Alexander McQueen had refrained from a considerable amount from his typical corsetry framework. This made for slightly easier shapes such as boxy jackets, airy dresses with moderate stiffness, and a fringed dogtooth sheath. It must be kept in mind though, that this is a man who would never compromise on construction and craftsmanship. The set for this collection was a scrap heap of junk from the stages of his own past shows, spraypainted black and surrounded by a cracked glass runway. This show was centred on the juxtaposition between extreme glamour and trash.

McQueen may be the last man standing when it comes to presenting his collection in an unadulterated piece of hard and ballsy showmanship. Some found his presentation of his models with sex-doll lips and painfully theatrical costumes as ugly and misogynistic, meanwhile, others were energised by the spectacle and couture-level drama in the execution of his clothes.

Below are some of his pieces, one is swag sided coat that seemed to be made from trash bags, accessorized with aluminium cans wrapped in plastic as headgear. Everything from plastic bags to hubcaps, umbrellas to lampshades, all rigorously co-ordinated with their outfits.


McQueen’s short tenure at the French couture house of Givenchy had given him the skills to cut elaborate masterpieces. Birds and feathers were at the core of the design theme, with the collection closing with two feathered mixtures. One in white, with the collar reaching high over the model’s shoulders. The other in sleek black, with wings bursting out both sides. With this collection McQueen had reached the ultimate level of ingenuity and craftmanship.

Spring/ Summer Collection

Alexander McQueen’s 2010 Spring/Summer ready-to-wear collection was unveiled at Paris’ 12th Arrondissement indoor arena on 6 October 2009.  “Plato’s Atlantis” was a show far ahead of its time. The outfits, make-up and hair kept the theme of the collection anchored. The hair was constructed like large fins on the models’ heads. Make-up used was colourless. Models appearing as though their faces were wet and glistening. Some models had on prosthetic makeup making them look fish-like. This was very much aligned with the prospect of living underwater with gills.

The designer was also an avid scuba diver, whilst birdwatching was his main passion. He delved into ocean life around the Maldives. These deep ocean dives proved beneficial, just like his bird observations. They were inspired by the thought of when humanity, having destroyed the earth, returns to the sea.

“Plato Atlantis” refers to the legendary island described by the classical Greek philosopher as having sunk beneath the sea. The beginning of the runway show started with a video made by Nick Night. It featured model Raquel Zimmerman laying nude with snakes moving across her body.

Innovation Behind the Spring/ Summer Collection

McQueen was one of the first to use 3D printing as a part of his show. The models came out in their short, digitally printed snake patterned dresses (popularly known as the manta dress). The colours first green and brown, then moved to aqua and blue.

Such a futuristic theme needed to be seen in all its bearing. So McQueen teamed up with Nick Knight’s SHOWstudio.com to display the runway live over the internet. Lady Gaga’s role in making “Plato’s Atlantis” was a genuine pop culture moment outside the fashion realm cannot be underrated. After she tweeted that her new song “Bad Romance” would debut in the show, the live streamed got so many hits to the extent that SHOW studio crashed. This show and collection proved Alexander McQueen as the world’s most visionary designer.


Suffering Loss

McQueen suffered another blow with the death of his beloved mother on 2 February 2010. The day before her funeral McQueen committed suicide, leaving a void in the fashion world. His long-time co-designer Sarah Burton took over the Alexander McQueen brand. His tremendous contribution to fashion was honoured in 2011 with the exhibitions. These exhibitions were at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts In New York City.


The company announced it would launch its first McQ stand-alone boutique in London in 2012, in August 2011. It was announced that McQ would be presented at London Fashion Week for the first time in February 2012 in November 2011. Also that the new four-storey Georgian townhouse boutique would stock womenswear, menswear, and accessories. The target market was mostly celebrities and wealthy socialites.



It is remarkable how a lower-class high school dropout rose to international fame as a designer. His audacious styles inspired and charmed the world of fashion. Alexander McQueen’s legacy lives on.