God did not save McQueen!

When I worked with Alexander McQueen…

After the passing away of Alexander McQueen, it seems that everyone in the industry are now recognizing his “undisputed” talent. However, it was not always the case. In the past, he was frequently misunderstood by the press. The troubled, disturbing, dark and oppressive atmosphere of certain shows was often too overwhelming for them to fathom.

I had the privilege of working with him when he was at Givenchy for the 1998 Fall-Winter ready-to-wear collection, in 1997. Before he created his Fashion House “Alexander McQueen” with the backing of  the PPR Group. I then followed his career from a distance.

Lee (his first name, Alexander was his middle name) exemplified the no compromise, always reinventing, re-challenging himself kind of model that many other designers can only wish to accomplish if given free reign. None of his collections resemble the preceding ones. Constantly re-inventing himself, his new collections are born with an entirely new and unique personality or DNA. His themes and inspirations were always very powerful statements with amazing staging, decor, performances and scenery dramatizations (a remake of the Sydney Pollack film “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?”, stuffed animals, rapacious, projections of XXL dream images, rain, snow, water, painting projections…) and he expressed those themes with breathtaking romantic and tragic allegories that went far beyond what one is used to expect from your classically established fashion designer.

He had it all: A perfect technique of “the cut”, the tailoring which was the foundation and basis of his work learned while on Savile Row. Yet with this classic training, he was able to take his creations much further expressed with his own tragic poetry. Some people might have complained  and stated, “Give me a break they are only clothing after all…” Perhaps, but the end product was more than “Just Clothing”.

They were pieces of finely executed and masterfully beautiful draping for the human body. A celebration of the beauty of the female silhouette. Forget the dramatization of the show for one second and look at the clothing, you will notice that they are very wearable. Part of his secret resided in the structure of the shoulders and necks of  his coats, jackets and dresses: the foundation from where the rest of the construction is built upon. Alexander was a master of architecting these foundations in many variations. “I became a designer to push new ideas, I don’t see the point of designing something that’s already been done 20 million different ways” stated Alexander at the beginning of his career.

Some examples of neck and shoulder details from Alexander McQueen’s last shows – photos Don Ashby & Olivier Claisse

At Givenchy,  Lee was surrounded by a British team comprised of young and incredibly talented people amongst which included Katy England, his friend and muse and playing a central role. There was also the incredibly talented and brilliant Simon Costin Art Director and Set Designer for the shows.

Oddly enough (and I found this to be quite amusing), there existed two totally different and opposing dynamics at the Givenchy Studio. When Lee and his team needed to relax, it was a variation of raucously loud music and joking around. However, when he felt that it was time to get back to work, a very studious atmosphere would prevail going through books of National Geographic and other source materials. You could hear a pin drop…

Polaroids taken during the fitting session at Givenchy House for RTW Fall-Winter 1998, while I was working at Givenchy’s Studio

It was a place where the “Suit and Tie” types felt uncomfortable and not welcome. It was the cocoon for creation that just didn’t have room for topics pertaining to “Bizness”. Those topics were best left to the board room and not the design studio. I did not see much of them. Only, General Manager at Givenchy at the time, Richard Simonin made the occasional incursion.

But there were a few people who were more than welcome… While he was being interviewed for Newsweek by Dana Thomas (she wrote about this event in her recent article here) locked in his studio, Naomi Campbell came in accompanied by Kate Moss. They knocked at my door and ask me with a sweet and shy voice “Can we go in? He knows us…” I, knowing that he obviously knew THEM, said “Sure, go ahead…” I’m sure it made Dana Thomas’ story even more deliciously news worthy.

Richard Simonin approached me one day before the show and asked, “Frédérique, would you please suggest to Alexander that he wear a tuxedo on stage?”… Well, Lee asked me to find him a shaver. I saw him a few minutes later wearing his baggy jeans, over sized shirt and his brand new haircut: a Mohawk! He looked at me wearing a hugely defiant big “F**K HIM” smile!

Alexander McQueen and Actress Béatrice Dalle at the Givenchy RTW Fall-Winter 1998

McQueen left Givenchy after a short stint. There were just too many limitations associated with his position at Givenchy. He had to take into consideration the legacy of Hubert de Givenchy to keep the customer loyal to the brand. LVMH group, owner of Givenchy were not giving him the attention he was expecting to develop his own brand which was his major priority. Lee knew what he wanted and was determined to get it. He slammed the door on LVMH and a new door opened with PPR welcoming him with open arms. He had finally arrived with a solid financial backer who would give him the freedom and the time to “BE” Alexander McQueen as a sole entity.

Rude and arrogant? That is how some people described him. I never witnessed that. He was reserved and rather shy with people he did not know which is often perceived as unapproachable, arrogant and cold. But he was kind with his team, had a great sense of humour and could crack some good jokes as well. Nonetheless, he loved to be provocative with authority and its hierarchy… But he finally wore a jacket, Didn’t he? (above with Béatrice Dalle)

He was a man with convictions. A man in a rush. Perhaps he felt there was no time to waste.

Thank you Lee. It was an honour passing you by on your way.

May you Rest In Peace with your Dear friend Isabella and your Mum.

Alexander McQueen’s & Katy England backstage by Alan Doyle

Alexander McQueen’s retrospective

Alexander McQueen collection FW 06-07 Part 1/2

Alexander McQueen collection FW 06-07 Part 2/2

Alexander McQueen collection SS 07 where he shows romanticism, femininity and provocative sensuality


Alexander McQueen collection SS 08, with Philip Treacy hats, a tribute to his dear Friend and Muse, journalist Isabella Blow

Alexander McQueen collection FW 09 a darker side

About Frederique Renaut
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Born in Paris, France, Fashion & Beauty Director for benjaminkanarekblog.com Frédérique Renaut wears 2 hats: 1/ Consultant in Communication for the Luxury Industry specialized in International Communication, Media & Advertising, 2/ Creative Direction, Video Direction for Fashion and Beauty shoots for publications like VOGUE & Harper's BAZAAR. She has also worked as an International Executive Manager for major cosmetics brands (Jean-Paul Gaultier, Issey Miyake and Narciso Rodriguez fragrances) and Couture Houses (Yves Saint Laurent, Louis Féraud & Givenchy by Alexander McQueen).
  • peekaboo

    Thank you for this post. I share your admiration for McQueen. I remember so well all the collections above but especially those from his stint at Givenchy. I can never forget his Haute Couture collections during his stint there. I still have Deborah Shaw in her silver weave outfit and that veiled model with a bird cage on her head embedded in my mind.

    Remember Esther Canada’s sweeping off her nun’s habit to reveal a slinky red mini dress? Unforgettable McQueen moments. Too numerous to mention btw.

    I still haven’t recovered from his collaboration with Michael Clark for that now legendary presentation a la “They Shoot Horses Don’t They”. It left me speechless…

    I admired him so much and will dearly miss his presence in fashion.
    Excellent post here Frédérique. Thank you for sharing your McQueen experience with us.

    • Frédérique Renaut

      Yes, his work was very unique and diverse. I have worked with different Designers and he was by far the most talented of them. It is a terrible waste…

  • http://massiveempire.typepad.com Massive Empire

    A wonderful and thoughtful post. I’m so glad to have found your blog through fashionindie.

    • Frédérique Renaut

      Glad you like it and hope you will enjoy future posts.

  • http://www.lepetitececile.wordpress.com Petite Cecile

    Hi Frédérique, Benjamin

    Thanks for put on words what a simply fashion lover, who doesn’t know any designer or is a fashion editor in a magazine, feels.

    I am very upset since the death of McQueen, that’s why I wrote a post based on yours.

    I don’t know if you read in spanish -i will try to translate the post soon-.

    Thanks again for this post, for me is the best that I have read about Alexander McQueen.

    • Frédérique Renaut

      Thanks for your kind words. I checked your blog: Very nice illustrations!

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  • http://chottocoquette.blogspot.com Chotto Coquette

    I loved reading this article. I think it gave a great perspective on how McQueen impacted fashion and why he became a fashion legend.

    Most people only talk about his amazing designs but I really think that as you mentioned his commitment to fashion as an art form was what set him apart. He was also I think so dedicated to the craftsmanship element of his art, because he saw it as a tool of an expression not a means to an end. Unlike, some infamous members of Project Runway who used glue at times that should remain nameless.

    • Frédérique Renaut

      Project Runway… What a joke!! This is the “15 minutes of fame”, the “American Idol” for fashion. Any real talent came out of that program??