Lee Alexander McQueen was a complex man of many guises. There was the 'larky' McQueen who dressed in women's clothes for a photo shoot with Italian Vogue; the tortured McQueen whose violent upbringing often played itself out in his fashion shows; and the media's favorite, the 'mouthy' McQueen who could always be relied upon to spice up a slow news day with an expletive-filled rant about anyone and everyone, from Madonna to The Queen of England.
But the ultimate question is, how many of these guises were genuine, how many were the clever creation of someone who always admitted that he learned to manipulate the press almost from the start? Hailed as reinventing the catwalk, McQueen put on some of the most outrageous, exciting and theatrical fashion shows London had ever seen, but the controversy propelled McQueen and he relished in shocking the crowds that flocked to his shows. He was constantly challenging his audience and his critics, at once disgusting and amazing them. He stamped his way over finer feelings with his extreme sensibility but he was loved for it.
He just got hotter and hotter and his star continued to rise. But beneath the swagger, the posing and the confrontational statements, McQueen was incredibly sensitive. He hid his personal breakdowns behind an armor of provocation, turning time and time again to his close friend and muse, Isabella Blow, for reassurance. But Blow was a woman with paralyzing insecurities herself so theirs was a somewhat twisted relationship, feeding off each other's depression. Her suicide in 2007 crushed McQueen; he had lost his greatest critic and he rarely spoke about her publicly after her death.
McQueen was a master showman, he poured his blood, sweat and tears into each of his shows and channeled his rebellious side into real theater, and his fashion shows were works of installation art, not just a display of wares. His incredible technical skill and the wildness of his inspirational subjects - ancient folklore, English paganism, and the force of nature - gave his designs an edge that made them resonate within the global fashion community.
Now it is clear that whilst he appeared to conform somewhat to society's expectations of what a successful fashion designer should look and behave like, at the time his internal demons had yet to be reckoned with. Death, violence and religion are all dealt with in his collections, a catharsis for someone who wasn't always as eloquent as his thoughts and emotions required. McQueen's fashion shows chartered the dark and profound seas of a mind in turmoil, his thoughts pitching from frightening to violent.
Friends, looking back, see the suicide of Isabella Blow as the beginning of the end for McQueen. In the last few months of his life, colleagues noticed that McQueen was becoming increasingly withdrawn, abrupt in his behavior and his work exhibited a worrying obsession with the afterlife. In early February 2010, McQueen's beloved mother Joyce lost her battle with cancer. She had been the one member of his family that he felt had truly supported his career and life choices and her death devastated him. Joyce McQueen was a regular at all of his fashion shows and the only person who could truly keep him in check.
Nine days after his mother passed away, McQueen took his own life. McQueen was one of, if not the most, talented designers of recent history. His collections were stunning, frightening and inspirational, yet the most disturbing aspect of his life, was his death - as brazen and shocking as many of his collections and as always, on his own terms - typically McQueen.
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