Style

Remembering Alexander McQueen

As the fashion world mourns the sudden loss of one of its greats, Details looks at the British designer's career in menswear.

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Bad boy of fashion. Enfant terrible. Consummate showman. Fashion genius. There will be many words used to describe Alexander McQueen, who, on Wednesday, apparently took his life at the age 40. But maybe the most revealing is tailor.

McQueen grew up as the youngest of six children in the working-class neighborhood of East London. The son of a taxi driver, he left school at 16 to train as an apprentice tailor with Savile Row stalwarts Anderson & Sheppard and Gieves & Hawkes. It was in those traditional workshops where McQueen began to craft his wickedly sharp tailoring—a style that would come to vivid life during his 15 years as a world-class designer.

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While McQueen's wildly romantic, sometimes brutally severe women's collections, first at Givenchy, and then at his eponymous label, garnered the most attention, his menswear was equally powerful. McQueen's shows weren't like other fashion events. Other shows offered excitement. McQueen delivered tension. As you waited for the lights to go down and the first model to come out, you weren't sure if you were about to enter a dream or a nightmare.

Often, as with his spring 2006 show, you experienced both. Based on Lord of the Flies, the collection began with proper Eton whites, knickers, and blazers and slowly morphed into more savage pieces, such as a cape covered in leather leaves. Two years later he explored both heroes and villains in his seminal fall 2007 collection held in a vacant corridor of a Milan commuter station. His Clark Kent types, dressed in iridescent three-piece suits with peaked shoulders, were eerily glamorous. Last fall, he staged a show called "McQueensberry Rules"—a play on the designer's name and the heritage of the Marquis of Queensberry, who helped formalize the rules of boxing. McQueen crafted menacing butcher aprons out of leather, strong overcoats out of shearling, and sharp pinstripe suits. His ability to combine historical elements with prodigious tailoring made the pieces modern and the show memorable.

Ultimately, McQueen's genius lay in his ability to traverse both the light and the dark and through his clothes express the haunting beauty of both joy and pain.

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