A Brief Tribute to Lee McQueen
This article first appeared in the February 2019 issue of Diego Segura Magazine.
On February 11, 2010, Lee Alexander McQueen was found dead in his London home. He was only forty years old.
His death is on my calendar now, and I hope to remember it every year for the rest of my days.
Lee dropped out of school at sixteen and took on work at tailor shops on Savile Row in London, known as a source of made-to-order men's suits. He proved more than adept and made beautiful clothes with his skill, a star born because of his art.
The timeline below shows his rapid ascent to the top of the fashion world's best.
McQueen (2018) is a beautiful film on his career and character. There's no way to describe in writing the emotions that I feel watching his shows. His early creations were so pure. He was always pushing the limits on what could and couldn't be done. I have nothing more than my personal taste to judge the artistic value of the clothes themselves, but his process was admirable. In the film, he's depicted creating entire shows of clothing with such little money, using all sorts of uncanny materials and techniques. A creator with constraints shows the depth of his abilities.
When Givenchy hired Lee in XYZ, materials and money were never in short supply. Nonetheless, Lee worked with the clothes not as if they were sacred cloths, but fabrics for the taking of anyone with an idea. He was scrappy.
In the last issue of this magazine, I spoke about many tragic geniuses, and one notably absent was Alexander McQueen. I know less about his life than I know about the stories I did mention, but his story rings equally true. His example of finding a job and performing as well as you can are as close as you can get to a "success secret".
By the end of Lee's life, however, all of that success and glory as a designer came second to a struggle with mental health in the face of adversity. The death of his mother and the professional pressure of creating so many clothing lines at such a rapid pace had gotten to him.
I can't speak for why he killed himself in such a brutal manner. I can't even venture to guess what he was feeling at the time. I do, however, know what I want to avoid as the years of my career go on. I never want to forget what it's like to create with a tiny budget, to do things unconventionally, to grab an idea and execute without fear. After all, when you're nobody, what do you have to lose?
The present state of my creativity is embodied by a bunch of little print projects that cost me too much money—I lose money on every single project—but it's scrappy. It's fun. It comes with no pressure, and I do it for no other reason than I want to. If at one point I am forced to produce over and over and it begins to kill me—I hope it never comes to that—I hope to remember Alexander McQueen and return to that youthful energy, to spend time and money creating only because it is what I do.
Much love, Lee.
Timeline of McQueen's life:
Born March 17, 1969
~1985/6: Leaves school aged 16
1992: Receives M.A. in fashion design
Starts "Alexander McQueen" brand with advice from mentor, Isabella Blow
1996: Named Chief Designer at Givenchy
Wins British Designer of the Year
1997: Wins British Designer of the Year (again)
2000: Sells 51% stake in Alexander McQueen to Gucci, gaining capital to expand the business
2001: Leaves Givenchy
2003: Named International Designer of the Year by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA)
Wins British Designer of the Year (again again)
Appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire
2007: Suicide of Isabella Blow, a mentor to Lee and a fashion icon in her own right.
McQueen wins British Designer of the Year (four times now)
2009: Final appearance on the runway, titled Plato's Atlantis
2010: Death of his mother (February 2)
Found dead on February 11 from suicide