“Fantastical,” “shocking,” “visionary”: these are words that only begin to scratch the surface at describing the late, great Alexander McQueen. The fashion designer, who committed suicide last month in his flat in Mayfair, London, would have turned 41 today. As an addendum to some touching McQueen tributes by fellow designers on Stylelist, we delved into the archives to compile 41 essentials facts about the man and his legend. Find the list after the jump.
1. He worked as the head designer at French couture house Givenchy for five years before launching his own label.
2. His given name was Lee.
3. Known just as much for his tailoring as his outré women’s couture, McQueen honed his skills as an apprentice on London’s Savile Row.
4. He won British Designer of the Year four times (1996, 1997, 2001, and 2003).
5. He once sewed the phrase ‘I am a cunt’ into the lining of a handmade suit for Prince Charles.
6. McQueen was the youngest of six children.
7. In his Spring/Summer 1999 show, he had two robots spray neon paint all over a layered white tube dress (see below for video clip).
8. The designer cited his favorite films as “Paris, Texas and Salo by Passolini. Any Wim Wenders is good.”
9. Though McQueen took inspiration from artists and musicians, he supposedly never reviewed the collections of other designers, saying, “My mind has to be completely focused on my own illusions.”
10. He directed the music video for Bjork’s single “Alarm Call.”
11. McQueen is credited with popularizing the skull motif in fashion.
12. He was close friends with stylist and haberdashery muse Isabella Blow, who killed herself in 2007.
13. McQueen was a practiced scuba diver, using the marine life around his favored diving spot in The Maldives as the axis for his presentation last fall.
14. In December 2000, the Gucci Group acquired a 51% stake in McQueen’s company and kept the designer on as creative director.
15. He applied for a job as a pattern cutter at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design; the school was so impressed by his portfolio they instead invited him on as a Masters student.
16. Blow actually bought McQueen’s very first collection in its entirety.
17. In 1998 he caused controversy when double amputee Aimee Mullins, a former Paralympian, modeled on the catwalk wearing a pair of hand-carved wooden prosthetic legs.
18. His second collection for Autumn/Winter 2005 called “Highland Rape” (pictured above) established McQueen as the “hooligan” of British fashion.
19. He once publicly dissed David Beckham, saying “That man is vainer than the veins running through my dick.”
20. He was most inspired by “animal skins. Not so PC, but there’s nothing better than nature. Nature is a fabric itself.”
21. McQueen introduced his first fragrance, Kingdom, with the Gucci Group in 2003. (It’s since been discontinued but you can buy it on Ebay for $200.)
22. The “bumster” jeans he debuted in 1996 spurred the low-rise denim trend that proliferated in the 1990s and early 2000s.
23. He realized he was gay when he was six, coming out to his family at age 18 and publicly one year later in i-D magazine.
24. McQueen left his post at Givenchy in 2001 when he claimed his contract with the Arnault-owned French label was “constraining his creativity” and that “to [Bernard] Arnault, Givenchy is just a perfume.”
25. Though McQueen’s career officially began at the age of 16, he recalled his earliest memory when, aged 3, he drew a picture of a dress on the wall of his family’s council house in the East End of London.
26. McQueen was the first designer to collaborate with MAC cosmetics on a signature line. His 2007 collab was inspired by Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra.
27. Celebrity fans include Sarah Jessica Parker, Cate Blanchett, Rihanna, Victoria Beckham, and Gwyneth Paltrow, whose goth get-up to the 2002 Academy Awards landed her on a plethora of worst-dressed lists.
28. In 2005, McQueen collaborated with Puma on a line of sneakers (aka “trainers”) for the shoe brand.
29. He married partner George Forsyth in a “flamboyant ceremony” aboard an Ibiza yacht in 2000. They split a year later.
31. He once admitted that he holds Queen Elizabeth II of England in the highest regards because, “Anyone that can do that job must be a bit insane, so you’ve got to give it to her.”
32. Kate Moss was projected as a hologram over the audience of the McQueen Spring/Summer 2008 show Autumn/Winter 2006, set to the theme music from Schindler’s List.
33. He told Vogue that his first couture collection with Givenchy was “crap.”
34. His inspirations varied “from the dark to the bizarre, among them Sydney Pollack’s film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, Hitchcock heroines, Lord Of The Flies and even a chess game.”
35. His personal style was drawn along the lines of close-cropped hair, a goatee, t-shirts, jeans, and Doc Martens.
36. McQueen was a “strict dieter.”
37. He had Scottish ancestry traced back to the Forest of Dean.
38. Despite his work hard/play hard lifestyle, there always an underlying current of sensitivity to McQueen’s design ethos, self-described as trying “to protect people. A lot of my clothes are hard-edged, like armor.”
39. He once professed to fancying Elizabeth I as a dinner guest “’cause she’s an anarchist.” (Guess he had a thing for queens?)
40. It was believed that he hanged himself while in mourning for his mother’s death nine days prior.
41. His funeral was attended by fashion world luminaries like Kate Moss, Naomi Campbell, Stella McCartney, Sam Taylor-Wood, and Daphne Guinness.
The designers behind ready-to-wear label Shipley & Halmos tell Stylelist: “McQueen’s showmanship was unlike any other designer. This clip shows how he could take an idea and create a spectacle in such a fascinating and inventive way. It is man versus machine – the ultimate expression of mixing classical and modern.”
Bonus link: SHOWstudio has a fantastic and revealing transcript of an interview with Alexander McQueen fielding questions from Kate Moss, Phillip Treacy, and others.