British Designer, McQueen found dead

There’s the relatively conventional, bow-bedecked ladylike look that has dominated of late — and then there was Alexander McQueen, who showered his immaculately tailored clothes with studs and his signature skulls, and crowned his runway models with horns and ringed them in fire.

McQueen, the bold British designer who was found dead at his London home Thursday — the first day of New York Fashion Week— was “one of fashion’s rare geniuses,” says Bridget Foley, executive editor of Women’s Wear Daily. “There are many, many excellent designers. There are very few true artists, and he was a true artist.”

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A statement on the Alexander McQueen website Thursday read: “At this stage it is inappropriate to comment on this tragic news beyond saying that we are devastated and are sharing a sense of shock and grief with (McQueen’s) family.”

Reports swirled that McQueen, who was 40, had committed suicide, but neither his publicists nor the police would confirm the cause of death. Comments on his Twitter page show McQueen was grief-stricken by the Feb. 2 death of his mother, Joyce McQueen. He wrote that he had had an “awful week” but said he had to “some how pull myself together and finish.”

In New York, the Thursday presentation of his lower-priced line, McQ, was canceled.

“He was the only one doing his kind of fashion, and it was so very important and so creative,” says Valerie Steele, the director and chief curator of The Museum at FIT in New York, which mounted a show 1½ years ago, Gothic: Dark Glamour, in which McQueen was “unquestionably the star figure.”

“Whatever demons haunted him, the clothes that he created were able to resonate with our ideas about beauty and fear and ugliness and the sublime, really — the place where beauty and terror meet.”

“He had this duality of thinking,” says Foley. “There was a hard, aggressive side and a wondrously romantic side (he once showed a dress of real flowers, whose petals drifted down as the model walked), and he gave voice to both of them. And not only was his vision amazing, but it was impeccably rendered.” McQueen trained as a Savile Row tailor before studying at the prestigious Central St. Martin’s College of Art and Design.

Part of McQueen’s artistry came through in his theatrical, fairy-tale-like shows, which over the years referenced shipwrecks, dance marathons, chess matches and Joan of Arc.

“When you would sit at those shows, you would realize you were watching something very, very special,” Foley says. “They were among the most breathtaking things I’d ever seen. Even when I didn’t love it, it was provocative. You came out thinking.”

His last show, in Paris in October, featured foot-high, sculptural shoes that resembled gigantic lobster claws. Later, Lady Gaga teetered in them in her Bad Romance video. McQueen attracted less flamboyant stars, too, including Sandra Bullock, who wore his sleek black gown to this year’s SAG awards.

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The fact that McQueen made many clothes that were actually wearable “does get overlooked,” says Foley. “He wasn’t all about the reed-thin, 9-foot-tall, post-adolescent body. He made clothes for women with curves.” (He once showed pieces with padded hips, as though to drive the point home.) And last year, he made clothes for women with shallow pockets — his well-received collection for Target of zigzags and tattoo prints.

Still, even though he’d launched his label in 1992, his was not yet a household name in the USA. “He had a more difficult time than some other designers getting out the word that (his vision) translated to a commercial reality, but it was not because he couldn’t do commercial clothes,” Foley says. “He was not one to sacrifice his runway vision. He was not going to put mundane on the runway so people would get the point, and God bless him for that, because there’s a lot of mundane on the runway.”

Part of the tragedy of his death, fashion followers say, is that, unlike so many past wunderkinds, his energy and creativity hadn’t faltered. “I can’t help thinking, ‘What about everything else he had to contribute?’ ” Steele says. “He was only in the middle of what he was doing.” Season after season, “he was by no means repeating himself. It was always onward and upward to something more exciting.”

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