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It’s fair to say that even 3 years on from Lee McQueen’s untimely death, he is missed profusely in the fashion world.
Trawling through my old university portfolio, I was taken aback by some of the clippings I had kept all those years ago for inspiration. I would like to look back over the works of McQueen and focus on the peaks of his career. Without a doubt Lee was a visionary; he had the ability to effortlessly piece together the weird and wonderful and captivate an audience. A real recluse, he would often lock himself away to focus on his collection work and shun the limelight that he so deserved. His sole purpose was to challenge and confront our perceptions through fashion. Many of his collections were so overtly provocative, that some wondered if he was maybe a one trick pony. On the contrary his visions were sure to shock and delight, season after season.
One of the first collections that prompted my love for him was his Spring/Summer 1997 collection. At just 11 years old this excited me and fuelled my passion for fashion. Models strode the catwalk in see through tops and sequins skirts. There was a futuristic element to this collection, the fresh new shapes and general cut, broke away from the classically tailored greats such as Chanel.
Further collections proved his worth within the industry, a worth that was recognised on countless occasions, when he won the British Designer of the Year in 1996, 1997, 2001 and 2003. It came as no surprise that in 2003 he won the CFDA’s International Designer of the Year award. If the judging was up to me personally, he would have won an award for every collection he did. His attention to detail was second to none and great care was taken to ensure, from when he put pen to paper, the end product still encompassed his passion, talent and message.
Most of his early collections were so controversial that he was entitled ‘L’Enfant terrible’ and ‘the hooligan of fashion’ by the fashion industry. This charismatic and outrageous attitude fuelled Lee and his designs to further shock and provoke. A personal favourite of mine has to be the ‘bumsters’. At the time they were seen as crass and vulgar. How wrong they were, when it spawned a trend for low rise jeans, one of the most popular fitting jeans among certain fashion tribes to date. Michael Oliveira-Salac, the owner of Blow PR, was quoted as saying ‘the bumster for me is what defined McQueen’ and I am more than inclined to agree.
The clothes alone would have captivated an audience, but it was the theatrical shows that really projected McQueen to the forefront of fashion. The infamous ‘Highland Rape’ show in 2004 prompted some critique and negative press. One journalist wrote that ‘this was theatrical staging of cruelty’. I truly believe that Lee was just so ahead of his time that it took most a while to get up to speed with him. His shows carried on engaging spectators in which, more often than not, the production seemed to be the main focus and not the collection. One of my all-time favourite shows has to be the Spring/Summer 2009 collection, with the highlight being the ‘spray paint’ dress. So keen was Lee to drive his collections that he employed the work of new technology and innovation to add drama to the catwalk. This was present in the mentioned collection, when for the finale, the model had her dress spray painted by some form of android.
I, like so many others, will remember where they were when the news broke of his death. I feel I speak for the majority when I say that we all felt a true idol had been taken from us. His work will always be subject to so many divided opinions, but his legacy of work will always remain his greatest achievement. But fashion stops for no-one and the show, as they say, must go on. The handing over to Sarah Burton must have been a double edged sword. On one side the excitement and honour of being chosen to carry the fashion house forward, but secondly the unprecedented criticism she would face when in comparison to the master himself. The first full collection to be created by Sarah was the Spring/Summer 2013 collection. It’s fair to say she kept a much more uniform look over the collection and it had nods towards previous collections. I do feel she hasn’t moved the brand on as much as she could have. It excites me to see how far she will go in the years to come, while still upholding the McQueen ethos to shock and provoke.
Lee shall remain one of the greats and will forever inspire me. I am so grateful to have experienced his work.