Colgate Couture: Long Live McQueen!



On February 11, the news broke that Alexander McQueen, prolific fashion designer, was found dead that morning in his London apartment. I was headed out the door for the night and a friend stopped and asked if I had heard the news. With a daily life dominated by the constant influx of information via Twitter, blogs, Facebook and television, I was shocked and overwhelmed to be so casually confronted with the unforeseen passing of this very young and extremely influential fashion icon. Without time to ruminate and with a gaggle of girls eager for some drafts, I let the news pass and assumed I would be caught up with all sorts of tributes and commentaries from the regular news and gossip circuits.

The news did come that McQueen hanged himself nine days after his mother’s death, on the eve of her funeral, and following a tumultuous break up with a longtime partner. McQueen had left several messages on Twitter about his grief over his mother’s recent passing and apparently left a suicide note behind, which has yet to be released. McQueen was scheduled to present his latest collection on March 9 at Paris Fashion Week and his secondary line, McQ, was to be presented the very day of his death, at the height of New York Fashion Week. The designer was just forty years old, had been named British Fashion Designer of the Year four times over and had already established acclaim and honors from celebrities like Kate Moss and Sarah Jessica Parker, to editors, stylists and even Queen Elizabeth II, who in 2003 named him Commander of the British Empire for his fashion leadership.

The news did come about McQueen’s unfortunate and untimely passing, though not in droves, and it disappeared surprisingly quickly from the headlines. For a designer who inspired so many with his distinctive and dramatic designs – he essentially coined the skull pattern – and reinvented the very notion of a fashion show as performance art, I was a bit disappointed that the world outside of fashion was only fleetingly concerned with his death.

The often-tucked away fashion community certainly mourned the loss with shock remorse. Anna Wintour left the BCBG show she was attending in tears, Lady Gaga paid silent tribute to the icon at a recent show and designers from Carolina Herrera to Vivienne Westwood commented on the insurmountable loss of a “genius, poet and friend.”

According to Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue, “his brilliant imagination knew no bounds as he conjured up collection after collection of extraordinary designs. At one level he was a master of the fantastic, creating astounding fashions shows that mixed design, technology and performance, and on another he was a modern day genius whose gothic aesthetic was adopted by women the world over. His death is the hugest loss to anyone who knew him and for very many who didn’t.”

So why is the sudden death of one of our generations greatest artists going relatively unnoticed? The comparisons can be drawn to J.D. Salinger, the tremendously prolific and influential author who recently died of natural causes at ninety-one. To be blunt, his death was far less shocking and yet equally unobserved by the general public. I am seriously starting to worry about our celebrity-obsessed culture (of which I am a guilty subscriber), where the most recently obsessed over deaths include the likes of mediocre actress Brittany Murphy and fallen heiress Casey Johnson.

Why have these individuals earned our respects and condolences while McQueen, so dedicated to creating art, inspiring fantasy and engendering societal change, has been left to the fashion world to mourn? If we were all paying a bit more attention we could have been influenced by a previous collection of McQueen’s, structured around the concept of recycling, with models donning extravagant headwear made out of trash. It was a statement we can all learn from.

Although this week’s article is written with an unusually heavy tone, I do so with the hopes of encouraging a greater awareness of cultural happenings and invigorating our individual dedications to the things that inspire us all. McQueen’s death reminds us that the most influential and innovative figures can be taken from us in an instant. We should appreciate their vision for the future and message about the world (for that often extends far beyond fashion) while they are here. But if they happen to leave us too early, the least we can do is pause to say thank you. You will be missed.