When Lee Alexander McQueen was named the couturier of Givenchy in 1996, the appointment catapulted the international profile of the then-27-year-old British wunderkind, who once described himself as a “big-mouth East London yob.”
This story first appeared in the June 1, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Yet, despite his incendiary reputation, he was always intent on building his signature brand. “I think I’m very intelligent when it comes to my own company,” he told WWD in 1998 during a swing through New York. “It’s a sleeping dragon.”
The company he left behind in the wake of his suicide at age 40 in February, majority owned by Gucci Group, plans to build on the designer’s legacy. Following the poignant presentation of his final 16 dresses during Paris Fashion Week in March, the McQueen company unveiled a licensed men’s underwear collection, a project the designer had overseen. The briefs and boxers, with skulls on the waistband, are slated to arrive in stores this month. On June 20, during men’s fashion week in Milan, the McQueen spring 2011 men’s wear collection will be unveiled.
McQueen left in his wake countless spellbinding fashion moments upon which to build — and a vocabulary of creative fashions ranging from expertly tailored suits and elegant evening dresses to rough-and-tumble jeans and streetwear.
The son of a taxi driver, McQueen scaled the highest peaks of the fashion world. He ignited his career with his seminal and controversial “Highland Rape” show in 1995, cobbled together with fragments from fabric shops, his runway littered with forest bramble. It was an early sign of his aggressive streak and a flare for showmanship that ultimately won the attention of the world’s biggest luxury group, Givenchy parent LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. And although his tenure at Givenchy was stormy, his couture experience left a lasting impact on Savile Rowtrained, Central Saint Martins-schooled designer.
In 2000, Gucci Group swept in and bought a 51 percent stake in McQueen’s company, setting the stage for expansion via signature boutiques in London, New York, Milan and Los Angeles; a secondary line called McQ licensed to Italy’s SINV, and collaborations with Puma, Samsonite and Target. The designer was proud of the fact that he never went bankrupt and that he beat a 2007 break-even deadline imposed by Gucci Group.
McQueen won the British Fashion Awards’ British Designer of the Year four times and won the Men’s Wear Designer of the Year award in 2004. In 2003, he received the CFDA Award for Best International Designer and was honored with a CBE from Queen Elizabeth II for his services to the fashion industry.