Can his fashion emporium survive after his tragic suicide?
Over the past few weeks many tributes, from both clients and fellow designers, have been paid to British fashion designer Alexander McQueen after his recent and unexpected suicide. Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Vogue, referred to McQueen as being a profound influence "to a whole generation of designers" and "his brilliant imagination knew no bounds as he conjured up collection after collection of extraordinary designs". However the most notable of these tributes was the preview of his final collection at Paris Fashion Week, which has been deemed as "mesmerising" whilst standing "in a class of it's own". All sixteen creations were inspired by the classical music he listened to while working in his studio. This was evident due to the religious, historical and gothic allusions that emanated through both the ornate setting and majestically gilded garments. Other inspiration was taken from the works of Hieronymus Bosch, the medieval artist renowned for his incredible yet tormenting portrayals of contemporary views on morality and religion. McQueen printed the digitally distorted paintings onto impeccably tailored garments, creating an incongruous element of futurism, which was always present in his work. However to some the show revealed an inexplicable foreshadowing of his death, as in contrast to many of his previous works that screamed controversy and rebellion whilst expelling a tone of crazed euphoria, there was an element of purity and uncharacteristic serenity.
McQueen began his career through earning a place at Central Saint Martin's College of Art and Design on the basis of his accomplished work as a tailor's apprentice on Savile Row. He emerged in the industry following his graduation, a transition that was marked by his transformation from Lee McQueen to Alexander McQueen, and was immediately catapulted into the spotlight (winning British Designer of the Year a record four times) largely because of his faultless tailoring, unique outlook, and the shock tactics he employed whilst displaying his work. Much controversy arose after his use of a double-amputee model to showcase his work for Givenchy in 1998 and additionally in this very same show his use of car-robots to spray paint over white dresses. It is evident that McQueen used fashion as a means of conveying his critique on contemporary society. Further examples of this include his comment on the "disposable" celebrity culture and the progressive fascination with modifying our appearance through undergoing plastic surgery.
The news of his suicide was announced on the 11th February shortly after the death of his mother, and many question whether his brash actions were a direct result of his inability to cope with his overwhelming grief. Others feel that the suicide of Isabella Blow, a close friend, mentor and fellow designer, may have also contributed to or been associated with his own wish to end his life. Friends and family turned out in force at McQueen's funeral, which was held in Knightsbridge, London. Among the mourners were Kate Moss, Lady Gaga and Naomi Campbell.
However the biggest question surrounding his death is the uncertain future of his company. Many assume that due to its success, especially in recent seasons, it will continue to live on without its inspired founder. There have been many cases of this in the past most notably the survival of labels such as Dior and Chanel, which have both managed to stay true to the roots of their design houses yet also add a new dimension and refreshing edge. However speculation that the McQueen label had raked up millions of pounds worth of debt in the run-up to his suicide could threaten its continuation and popular status. In an interview due to be published in the coming weeks McQueen confesses, "I'm 40 now, but I want this to be a company that lives way beyond me, and I believe that customers are more important to making that happen than press." It may transpire that a small and relatively unestablished company cannot clear their ever-increasing debts, ultimately resulting in its closure yet through his work and late partnership with Givenchy, McQueen's designs and unique philosophy may live on.
Published online for the Clifton College school website