The Talented Mr. McQueen

As fashion insiders applauded Alexander McQueen’s seventh collection, 1996’s Dante, the British designer retreated from the spotlight. He deliberately remained mysterious, out of fear that his rising star would result in the loss of the social security benefits he was living off of. That same year he was appointed to design for Givenchy. When he became chief designer for the French fashion house responsible for dressing Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy, there was no longer any need to hide.

In May 2011, The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art paid tribute to the late Alexander McQueen with a 100-piece retrospective called Savage Beauty. The accompanying hardcover book, a 240-page collection of images and quotes is a reflection of the exuberance and social awareness that he embodied. Known for his dark sensibility and unflinching confidence in his work, the book sheds light on the joy he took from putting together shows and his desire to always convey beauty through his designs.

From the Victorian era to heroic women like Joan of Arc, McQueen interpreted his inspiration in a way that made a statement about his experiences. “My work is a social document about the world today,” he said. Raised in a working-class family, McQueen dropped out of school at 16 and began his design education as an apprentice on Savile Row. Working with Anderson & Sheppard, tailors by appointment to the British royal family, he learned about construction before studying at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Regardless of being anti-establishment, he had great respect for history and tradition. While the book provides an all-encompassing look at the influential designer and his collections, it also celebrates the way he communicated through clothes. “I prefer extreme reactions,” he once said. “There is no point in doing it if it’s not going to create some sort of emotion.”

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