History of Fashion: The Legacy of Alexander McQueen

by Jessica Barr

Known as “Enfant Terrible,” British fashion designer Alexander McQueen usurped the industry in the mid 90s with controversial designs, deviance and a complete disinterest in being liked. McQueen’s philosophy that fashion needed to be a mode of communication was demonstrated through his innovative designs, principally containing metaphors of politics and feminism.

Alexander Lee McQueen was born in London as the youngest of six, his mother, a social studies teacher and father, a cab driver or “cabby.” During his teen years McQueen began working in fashion as a seamster in a few places. His first apprenticeship at Anderson and Sheppard on Savile Row marked the beginning of his career with unorthodox fashion when he embroidered obscenities into the lining of a suit tailored for the Prince of Wales.

McQueen was no stranger to backlash or controversy, yet some of his designs caught onto mainstream fashion so much so that every woman in the world sported them – as was the case with his low-rise jeans called “bumsters;” trousers cut so low they sometimes didn’t fully cover the model’s bum. Still, they inspired a global trend so widespread, proving the alignment of his creative intuition with the ephemerality of fashion. Nearly every mainstream jean manufacturer was selling low-rise jeans after they featured in his collection, “The Taxi Driver” for A/W 1993. 

McQueen’s big breakthrough really came around 1994 when stylist Isabella Blow purchased his whole graduate collection, flaunting the McQueen brand until her death in May 2007. In 1996, McQueen was appointed chief designer for the house of Givenchy, where he begrudgingly stayed until his contract was up in March 2001. After five years of feeling that his creativity was constrained, he began working with the Gucci group in December of 2000, which bought a 51% stake in McQueen’s own label. It was here that Alexander McQueen really became a pioneer of fashion.

For all of his designs that purposely caused uproar and backlash, McQueen was anything but contentious. Personal friends described him as shy in his private life, being regarded in W magazine as “adorable and kind, and he’s unbelievably good to his friends – generous without noise.”

A version of this originally appeared in
The Teller December 2019 Issue #9

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