Brilliant, offensive, beautiful, outrageous.
Four words used to describe the life and legacy of iconic British designer Alexander McQueen during Channel 4’s documentary McQueen and I.
It begins with McQueen’s first job in fashion at the age of 16 on the prestigious Saville Row. The then named ‘Lee McQueen’ soon proves his technical ability, but doesn’t lose his sense of rebellion, famously sketching some unsavoury images on the inside of Prince Charles’ suit. He prides himself as an ‘eager to learn’ worker, but is not suited to the cluttered, restricted environment.
After getting a taste for fashion design, but with no formal qualifications, he begs the big wigs at St Martin’s College of Fashion for a job, but ends up enrolling as an MA Fashion student. Cue all the past teacher quotes about ‘knowing he had something special’.
Meanwhile, a life of parallel eccentricity is taking flight at Vogue magazine, situated a few miles from McQueen. Fashion journalist Isabella Blow, having been sacked from Tatler and American Vogue, takes a position at the high fashion magazine, using her contacts and charisma to launch new names, such as milliner Philip Treacy. She views McQueen’s graduation collection and is instantly impressed, saying it represents ‘sabotage and tradition’.
After graduating McQueen is eager to get stuck in, but is unemployed so spends every last penny of dole money on fabric and cheap show space. When everything finally comes together his début show shakes the fashion world to the core causing a shock wave of fashion anarchy.
Things only go up from there, even after his famous 1995 Highland Rape show which was met by criticism and confusion. Blow continues to support and network him with some fashion greats. Their strange relationship appears to be a match made in abnormal heaven, which only helps strengthen his chances of success. After his eighth collection he is appointed Creative Director of Parisian fashion house Givenchy, recreating their classic and conservative styles but with a McQueen twist.
From here he moves up and up the Gucci Group and Isabella feels left behind. She feels her image and position in the fashion world is in jeopardy as she watches further protégés, such as Julien MacDonald, gain mainstream success. Her ego and demands exceed beyond her and she falls into deep depression.
By this time McQueen is reeling out around ten collections a year for Gucci and his own brand, with pressure mounting like never before. His shows get more theatrical and extreme, with the phrase ‘you’re only as good as your last collection’ ringing more and more true. With things elevating to a new commercial level, leaving behind loved ones proves stressful. Much more so for Blow, who’s depression intensifies until she sadly commits suicide after six attempts.
No-one is deeper affected by the loss than McQueen as it comes at a time in his career where he is said to be ‘at his best’. No-one would’ve guessed that his famous 2009 collection, featuring metamorphic prints and hoofed shoes would be his last. His mother soon after tragically dies of cancer and McQueen’s world is turned upside down once again. On the eve of her funeral, unable to cope, McQueen takes a mixture of drugs before hanging himself in his wardrobe.
The detailed documentary has saddening undertones of tragedy throughout. Even when McQueen reaches his highest point you can’t help but get the feeling he’s about to crash and burn – a clear indication that nothing in life was ever enough for the seemingly cheerful designer. If there’s anything to learn from McQueen & I it’s that his story was one of rags to riches, but at an unimaginably fast pace. Accounts from friends, family and ex-lovers reminds us that it’s not only fans of his work who were devastated by his death, but the people who knew him best were even sadder to lose such a great person.
McQueen & I is available to watch now on 4od