Fashionistas Honor Alexander McQueen At London Memorial
First Published: September 20, 2010 1:45 PM EDT Credit: Getty Images
LONDON, U.K. -- They came in sky-high heels and huge dark sunglasses and even managed to flash a little cleavage from their deep black mourning outfits.
The world’s fashion elite gathered beneath the magnificent dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral Monday to celebrate the legacy of Alexander McQueen, the troubled British designer who took his own life in early February.
The crowd included a Who’s Who of fashion central: American Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, models Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, designer Stella McCartney, “Sex and the City” star Sarah Jessica Parker, and dozens of other McQueen devotees.
The event brought London Fashion Week to a halt — no one wanted to show a collection while the giants of the industry were marking the passing of McQueen, an iconoclast who was Britain’s most celebrated, controversial and outrageous designer.
Those who could wore McQueen outfits, including some with his signature tartan. Many women wore his beautiful black shoes, some offset with the gold chains and the impossibly high heels he favored.
Wintour, elegant in a black and gold ensemble, said McQueen was never satisfied with his work and always vowed to do better, even when he had broken new ground with one of his shocking and sophisticated shows. She said he was happiest in his studio, where he often worked all night, falling asleep with his dog on a couch.
Wintour and others hinted at his dark side. She spoke of his sometimes “savage tongue” and the discomfort he felt with the social niceties required by the fashion world.
“We always forgave Alexander,” she said after describing how McQueen failed to show up for his first-ever American Vogue photo shoot and then told editors there that he couldn’t care less about the magazine — one of the fashion industry’s most influential publications.
She said that only later did she find out that McQueen had not come to the photo shoot because he was receiving unemployment benefits and didn’t want to jeopardize his payments by appearing to be financially successful in the magazine.
Wintour said McQueen grew up in the hardscrabble East End of London not far from St. Paul’s and never strayed far from his beloved London roots.
“As a child he loved nothing more than sitting on the roof top and watching birds fly by,” she said. “His final collection was a battle between dark and light. His was an 18-year career of harnessing his dreams and demons. But he has left us with an exceptional legacy, a talent that soared like the birds of his childhood above us all.”
No one spoke directly about the reasons behind his suicide, but it was clear from the eulogies that McQueen had been a complex, occasionally tormented individual who was often unable to enjoy his rare gift.
He had a history of depression and was said to be devastated by the loss of his mother, who died on Feb. 2. McQueen’s body was found in his London apartment nine days later.
Even his close friends admitted he was almost as quick with a straight-to-the-guts insult as he was with a deeply felt compliment.
“He was a designer with an unparalleled vision of the future, but he was dragged down by his demons,” said International Herald Tribune fashion editor Suzy Menkes. “McQueen was a mix of the savage and the romantic.”
She drew a laugh commenting on the “misogynistic” quality of one of McQueen’s last pair of shoes, the notorious “lobster claws” with 10-inch (25-centimeter) heels favored by Lady Gaga. Indeed, one model wearing McQueen high heels did take a tumble on the cobbled stones outside the cathedral.
Icelandic singer and actress Bjork, wearing an unusual McQueen outfit complete with mock wings, sang “Gloomy Sunday,” a dark song dealing with death and loss popularized by American singer Billie Holiday.
Jewelry designer Shaun Leane spoke about his long, intense friendship with McQueen — making a joke about how McQueen would have enjoyed the grand setting for his service — and leading hatmaker Philip Treacy read one of the prayers.
After the service, a lone bagpiper — reflecting McQueen’s Scottish roots — led the mourners out of the cathedral, joining other pipers on the steps of the venerable building, a 17th century masterpiece designed by Christopher Wren.
“It was beautiful, but very intense,” said model Jade Parfitt afterward. “I’m at a loss for words.”
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