The man whose name was often followed by the words "enfant terrible" was found dead today in London. While he may be remembered as a bad boy, it's more likely that he will be called a visionary.
McQueen was known for his expert tailoring — a skill he picked up working on Saville Row in the early '90s. He caused a sensation and made a name for himself in 1995 when, at the height of the low-rise pants trend, he showed "bumsters" on his runway: Trousers cut so low, half of the model's buttocks were revealed.
McQueen was discovered by fashion icon Isabella Blow, who came to one of his shows while he was still a student at Saint Martins College of Art and Design. In 1996, McQueen was named head designer for Givenchy. Blow died three years ago, taking her own life after being diagnosed with cancer; he dedicated his spring summer 2008 show to her.
McQueen loved drama. The Givenchy runway show in January of 1997 was presided over by an angel with giant wings.
I can't write this without mentioning that McQueen was one of my favorite designers. I loved how he once conducted a videotaped interview with his back to the reporter; his point seemed to be that his face had nothing to do with the clothes, and anyway, he'd said all he needed to say on the runway. His fashion shows were like theater, and he had a knack for creating something terrifying and beautiful at the same time.
A model from a McQueen show in 2000.
McQueen became a celebrity favorite, and often collaborated with musicians. He designed the cover of Bjork's 1997 album Homogenic.
Sarah Jessica Parker's elaborate tartan McQueen gown — seen here as she poses with the designer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Benefit Gala: Anglomania in 2006 — was indicative of how he mixed irreverence with clean tailoring. Other celebrity fans include Charlize Theron, Gwyneth Paltrow, Janet Jackson and Kate Moss.
There was often an element of danger in McQueen's garments — a dark, Gothic quality that could sometimes go over the top. But I would often visit the McQueen store on 14th street, and always found that up close, these were clothes that were expertly designed, impeccably tailored, with hidden details — skull buttons, interesting linings — demonstrating that he committed to his vision, down to the very last thread.
Image from a runway show in London, 2004
McQueen's styles may have changed from year to year, but what remained constant was his idea of a woman as a pillar of strength. Whether it was this gown from 1997…
This look from 2005…
Or this silhouette from Paris fashion week in October 2009. These women are not delicate; there's a tough beauty, and power. One has to wonder if it came from being so close to his mother, Joyce, who died a few days ago. In a 2004 interview, she asked him: "What is your most terrifying fear?" He answered: "Dying before you."
Even though McQueen's runway designs were often too dramatic for every day, his accessories were ridiculously popular: The skull scarf he designed in 2005 remains a trendy item.