Alexander McQueen, one of fashion's most uncompromising designers whose boundless vision consistently dazzled a cutthroat industry, was found dead Thursday at his London apartment. He was 40 years old.
The New York Times and other news outlets have reported that the British designer committed suicide, though McQueen's family has yet to comment on the cause of death.
The son of a taxi driver, Lee Alexander McQueen rose from humble roots in London's East End to become a subversive star of high fashion and a prodigious tailor with Savile Row training (in his youth, he had apprenticed at Anderson & Sheppard and Gieves and Hawkes). McQueen went on to study design at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London, where his graduation collection was bought by the stylist and editor Isabella Blow.
Reached by phone Thursday, Barneys New York creative director Simon
Doonan said that McQueen's death "leaves a gigantic gap for the fashion
"He had that incredible imagination, that creative
rage, if you will, that comes out of the English working classes,
people like John Galliano and Vivienne Westwood who have this
extraordinary imagination and desire."
Known as the "bad boy of fashion" for his extravagant and controversial runway shows, McQueen refused to soft-pedal his avant-garde collections in recent seasons while competing houses played it safe in a soured economic climate. "He didn't compromise artistry, yet he was a commercial brand," Arianne
Phillips, an Academy Award-nominated costume designer and longtime
stylist for Madonna, told The Advocate. "When I think of
corporate success, I think of compromised integrity. But when you
walked into a McQueen store or saw a show, you felt it was thoroughly
his vision. And his artistry just ricocheted throughout the industry."
Celebrities and iconoclasts across artistic disciplines in turn took notice: For her recent video "Bad Romance," Lady Gaga strutted in a reptilian couture dress, scaled leggings, and 10-inch-heel shoes resembling hooves that were inescapable fodder for fashion journalists and devotees. All were featured in McQueen's spring 2010 collection during Paris Fashion Week in October. "He was the most theatrical of all designers," Out editor in chief Aaron Hicklin said. "He was so technically brilliant at pulling together his whole vision, so it was really just grand entertainment to see one of his shows. In a way he was like a James Cameron of fashion in that he was very elaborate. You remembered his shows. You can't really say that for a lot of fashion right now. He, more than anyone else, really epitomized fashion as a spectacle."
Phillips added: "I just want to know why this happened. When I think
of him, he's going to belong forever to this group of loss: John Lennon,
River Phoenix, Kurt Cobain -- these people who really inspired us and
came from humility."
In 2000, McQueen married 24-year-old
documentary filmmaker George Forsyth in Ibiza (they later separated). "I
came out really young," McQueen told British Vogue in 2002. "I
was never in [the closet]. I was sure of myself and my sexuality and
I've got nothing to hide. I went straight from my mother's womb onto the
gay parade." Friends of the designer had been concerned about
McQueen's well-being in recent days following the death of his mother,
Joyce, on February 2. He notified his fans of the news via Twitter on
February 3, adding, "But life must go on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" A few days
later, McQueen tweeted that he'd had a "fucking awful week but my
friends have been great but now i have to some how pull myself
McQueen was scheduled to show his fall 2010
collection in Paris next month.
In a statement posted on his Web
site Thursday on behalf of his family, representatives said "At this
stage it is inappropriate to comment on this tragic news beyond saying
that we are devastated and are sharing a sense of shock and grief with
According to The Guardian, McQueen's death
is not being treated as suspicious. Police have not commented on whether
the designer committed suicide.