Alexander McQueen Timeline

Alexander McQueen

Biography

Before heading to the V&A’s blockbuster exhibition – Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty – learn more about this pioneering fashion designer with our interactive timeline of his life.

Marc Hom, Portrait of Alexander McQueen, 1997
© Marc Hom / Trunk Archive
1969
march
Born Lee Alexander McQueen in Lewisham
Alexander McQueen Timeline
1985
McQueen starts Savile Row apprenticeship

McQueen leaves school with one O level in art and takes up a Savile Row apprenticeship with tailors Anderson & Sheppard followed by one at neighbouring Gieves & Hawkes. Through these apprenticeships and a stint at theatrical costumers Bermans & Nathans, McQueen becomes a master cutter – acquiring the skills to create his signature silhouettes and defined tailoring.

1990/1
Studies at Central Saint Martins

Armed with flawless tailoring skills from Savile Row and experience with working with designers Koji Tatsuno and Romeo Gigli, McQueen applies to be a cutting tutor at the college. His impressive portfolio would lead him to be spotted and accepted for the MA in fashion design.


Watch an interview with Jane Rapley, head of Central St Martins College on her memories of the designer.
1992
march
Meets Isabella Blow

About to turn 23, McQueen presents his MA collection called Jack the Ripper Stalks his Victims which is bought in its entirety by Isabella Blow; a wealthy aristocrat, fashion journalist and style icon. Blow, certain McQueen is a genius, uses her considerable connections to get him noticed by top fashion editors.

Blow convinces him to be known as Alexander McQueen, rather than Lee – nicknaming him Alexander the Great.

1995
Highland Rape collection courts controversy

The collection’s ambivalent title and disturbing catwalk show triggers the start of McQueen’s turbulent relationship with the press and cements his role as enfant terrible in the fashion industry. Images of women with torn clothes, naked breasts, bloodied flesh and blanked out eyes are seen as misogynist. The designer states the collection refers to the clearing of the Scottish Highlands by the English in the 18th century.

The world is also formally introduced to McQueen’s signature low-slung bumster trousers.


Watch highlights from this legendary catwalk show
1996
McQueen becomes chief designer at House Givenchy

Within four years of graduating, McQueen succeeds John Galliano at one the biggest global fashion houses and wins British Designer of the Year – an award he would secure four times in the course of his career.


McQueen designs pieces for David Bowie’s tours including the infamous Union Jack coat worn by the singer on the album Earthling.


Watch BBC documentary The Works made in 1997, following McQueen as he takes his first steps at Givenchy.

Watch BBC documentary The Works made in 1997, following McQueen as he takes his first steps at Givenchy.
1999
McQueen makes fashion history. Again.

In his No 13 catwalk show McQueen once again uses cutting-edge technology to create spectacle and provoke debate; robotic paint guns spray black and yellow paint onto a white dress while model Shalom Harlow attempts to keep her balance on a rotating platform, as she says, ‘at some point the curiosity switched, and it became slightly more aggressive and frenetic and engaged on their part.’ The dance-like performance is mesmerising.

Spray painted dress No 13
Read model Shalom Harlow's account

Alexander McQueen, Spray painted dress No 13, S/S 1999
Model: Shalom Harlow, Image: Catwalking
Read model Shalom Harlow's account
2000
Gucci buys McQueen’s label

McQueen is increasingly unhappy at Givenchy where, under pressure to drive profits, his headline-grabbing theatrical shows fail to inspire buyers. McQueen signs a deal with Tom Ford at the Gucci Group giving them 51% of the label. In return, McQueen becomes creative director with full artistic licence – with the understanding that he will make commercially successful lines, developing a jeans label and fragrance products. McQueen leaves Givenchy in March 2001.

2001
VOSS declares McQueen’s return

McQueen’s first collection after leaving Givenchy in Paris celebrates his homecoming. The designer’s notorious VOSS show at London Fashion Week starts an hour late forcing the fashion elite to stare at themselves at a mirrored box in the centre of the room. The finale reveals a naked model surrounded by moths emerging from a collapsed box.

Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen, Tahitian pearl and silver neckpiece, VOSS, S/S 2001
Model: Karen Elson, © Anthea Simms
Shaun Leane for Alexander McQueen, Tahitian pearl and silver neckpiece, VOSS, S/S 2001
Model: Karen Elson, © Anthea Simms
2003
McQueen mania peaks

The designer wins International Designer of the Year, British Designer of the Year and is awarded a Commander of the British Empire (CBE), demonstrating the height of McQueen’s fame and prestigious talent. Distance between Isabella Blow and her protégé McQueen continues to widen, with the two both battling personal demons.

2007
Isabella Blow commits suicide

After numerous suicide attempts, rounds of psychiatric therapy and several career comebacks, Isabella or Izzy as she was known by close friends, dies by drinking weed killer.


McQueen and fellow Blow discovery the milliner Philip Treacy dedicate their next show to her, La Dame Bleue. The catwalk is infused with her signature Robert Paguet scent.

Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen, Butterfly headdress of hand-painted turkey feathers La Dame Bleue,S/S 2008
Model: Alana Zimmer, © Anthea Simms
Philip Treacy for Alexander McQueen, Butterfly headdress of hand-painted turkey feathers La Dame Bleue,S/S 2008
Model: Alana Zimmer, © Anthea Simms
Jellyfish ensemble
2010
February
McQueen found hanged

Nine days after McQueen’s beloved mother dies from cancer, McQueen is found hanged at his home in London. McQueen is just 40 years old. The label’s skull-emblazoned scarves sell out globally and the fashion world mourns at his memorial service at St. Paul’s Cathedral, at which singer Bjork performs Billie Holliday’s Gloomy Sunday.


His final show Plato’s Atlantis, which true to McQueen’s innovative approach to fashion, is the first catwalk show to be streamed live on the internet.

Alexander McQueen, Jellyfish ensemble and Armadillo shoes, Plato’s Atlantis, S/S 2010
Model: Polina Kasina, © Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE
Jellyfish ensemble
Alexander McQueen, Jellyfish ensemble and Armadillo shoes, Plato’s Atlantis, S/S 2010
Model: Polina Kasina, © Lauren Greenfield/INSTITUTE
2010
may
Sarah Burton named creative director

McQueen’s right-hand woman Sarah Burton is named as his successor. Burton had worked alongside the designer for 14 years. The label is given a new lease of life when the Duchess of Cambridge chooses the fashion house to design her wedding dress for her marriage to the Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge.

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty is at the V&A from 14 March until 2 August 2015 and is 50% off with National Art Pass.