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Design Philosophies of Alexander McQueen

Design Philosophies of Alexander McQueen

Alexander McQueen was raised in London by a struggling working class family with 5 other children. He found work in a tailor shop on London’s famous Saville Row, where many businessmen go to purchase custom made suits. He was known for good work and witty antics (like stitching “McQueen was here” inside the pocket lining of Price Charles suit) and eventually worked for costumers on the set of Les Miserables. This, along with his job as a pattern cutter for Romeo Gigli, earned him recognition as a qualified tailor who knew how to fit customers flatteringly (Business Insider). 

LDN Fashion

He eventually had enough experience to attend school at the prestigious Central Saint Martins, where his future good friend and business partner purchased his entire senior collection. The collection was based on Jack the Ripper, and used unique dyeing processes that gave the appearance of veins. He also used organic matter, such as hair, in the details on his garments–his collections were always reminiscent of a child’s science experiment with an adult flair for quality–it seems fitting that he was referred to as “L’Enfant Terribles”, and that his collections always broke boundaries in the fashion industry. His methods were unique–for example, he once buried a yard of fabric in his garden for months then washed and made a garment out of the slightly decomposed cotton. His work was provocative with a sense of whimsical–it felt as if he had crafted a world of his own whenever he showed his work. This perhaps was a result of his training in costume design, specifically in plays and drama. 

Jack the Ripper 1992

Isabella Blow became his muse and eventually shot him to stardom. He became known for his lavish runway shows and ability to craft a story. He soon became the senior designer at Givenchy, but was not well received and was uncomfortable with the fact that he could not put his entire self into the brand. However, he won British Designer of the Year award during his first year there, and would go on to win it many more times. His constant rule breaking was a professional strain, but a creative light. After leaving Givenchy he continued to work more on crafting an experience, which led to his show where a model in a white dress was sprayed with paint guns as she walked. He was able to expand his international brand through acquisition from Gucci Group and soon became one of the top selling designers of all time. 


His most iconic collection was a statement on how suffocated he felt in the industry at the time. “Voss” featured infinity mirrors that showed the crowd their own faces, until lights flicked on exposing a model in a gas mask. The glass then shattered and the show began, crowd in an uproar. He continued to dominate the high fashion market until his last show in 2009, where he showed a dress dedicated to late friend Isabelle Blow. He died by suicide months later (The New York Times).

McQueen stated that his design philosophy was to “make a piece that can transcend any trend and will still hold as much presence in 100 years time when you find it in an antique store as when you bought it in my store yesterday. He took classic pieces and played with their form to keep them chic yet unique. He firmly believed in the right to freedom of expression–he did not believe anyone could be happy when trying to please others. He himself purposely chose to present himself in an elusive and unattractive manner simply so people would pay more attention to his ideals than himself. He wanted to push social norms and barriers in a beautiful way, rather than just doing it to be disruptive. Throughout his career, he “frequently returned to the theme of primitivism, which drew upon the fantasy of the noble savage living in harmony with the natural world (VACM)” He knew how to balance technical artistry with drama and innovation. He learned the rules very well, only so he could break them in a beautiful manner. He stated he wanted to “demolish the rules, but keep with tradition”.

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“Give me time and I’ll give you a revolution”.

Alexander McQueen

His work was romantic and savage. He wanted to be seen as the start of a new era, and he was. He paved the way for many different young designers today, in a time where fashion was rigid and biased. McQueen was gaining popularity in a time where scandals were rampant–America began to lose faith in their government after 9/11 and the uncharted territory led to a bit of chaos. McQueen whole-heartedly embraced the brewing anarchy of this era. His success was largely due to his ability to pull inspiration from everywhere. His overall presentation of fashion blurs the lines between an experience and a product. Multi-sensory experiences are the future of art. Interactive design is a powerful medium of expression that should be more often utilized in retail to make a lasting impact.

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