February 11, 2010

Farewell, Alexander McQueen

If I'm completely honest with myself, my own fashion aesthetic (though it has evolved) crystallized in the moment I first discovered Alexander McQueen's work, while paging through stacks of hefty design tomes in the school library. His dramatic shows, collaborations with innovative artists and jewelry designers and musicians, created unforgettable moments of theatre; but most of all, the clothes, with their razor-sharp tailoring, their references ranging from Edwardian to futuristic to mythological. Though I preferred his earlier work, which had a startling rawness to it, his collections were continually original in an era when fashion often rings derivative. And, unbelievably, he created most of the delightfully innovative patterns for the clothes with his own two hands, using the skills he'd learned as a teenager on Savile Row and then perfected over two decades.

And as if that weren't enough, there was his back story, which has been told repeatedly in the obituaries today: the youngest of a London cabdriver's six children, he dropped out of school at 16 and apprenticed himself to a master tailor; then applied to Central St. Martins as a patternmaking teacher, but ended up one of its most celebrated alumni instead after the eccentric stylist Isabella Blow purchased his graduation collection. It's a rags-to-riches tale that offers inspiration to all fashion students, one that promises that even if you aren't a well-connected socialite, it is possible to make it on sheer talent and guts alone. And make it to the very top, at that.

McQueen was one of the true genius fashion designers of his generation. And he will be sorely missed by even those of us who never got any closer to him than admiring the exquisitely turned-out garments in his store.

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