By Cyan Mae

    Lee Alexander McQueen CBE (17 March 1969–11 February 2010) and I share a few things in common. We went to the same design college in London. We subsequently worked as designers and ran businesses that sold the products we created. We both suffered from severe mental health issues and we both had made attempts on our own lives. Unfortunately, McQueen had more success than me in more ways than one.

    The exhibition Alexander McQueen: Mind, Mythos, Muse is currently on at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) until the 16th April 2023. In recent years, Victorians seem to have taken an interest in fashion designers, viewing their works as art instead of commercial entities. Since 2017, we’ve seen The House of Dior and Gabriella (Coco) Chanel in the NGV as well as Balenciaga in the Bendigo Art Gallery. The current McQueen exhibition however, is unique in the lifespan of both the brand and the founder. Dior, Chanel and Balenciaga were designers that lived through two world wars, extended periods of austerity as well as the age of respectability and conformity for women. The brand Alexander McQueen, on the other hand, was founded in a society of mass production, fast fashion and a world where new and radical ideas needed to be formed and developed quickly in order to stay relevant. 

    “When I’m dead and gone, people will know that the twenty-first century was started by Alexander McQueen.”
    Lee Alexander McQueen 

    It is possible that Lee McQueen never quite saw himself as a fashion designer. He once stated, “Fashion is just the medium.” McQueen was well known for his exquisite tailoring skills which gave him the freedom to express his ideals and concepts in the garments he designed. In the 36 collections he created in his lifetime, he touched upon subjects ranging from sex, religion to serial murderers, mythology and war. He then presented his collections in various innovative and theatrical ways. A few notable ones included Kate Moss in hologram, a supermodel in a simple dress sprayed with paint during a live fashion show and a skin tight bodysuit to which was harnessed a 20 foot long parachute silk cape. Alexander McQueen was considered the bad boy of British fashion, but perhaps he was simply a man with many ideas who chose to express them in the fashion world where clothes were his props and the catwalk was his stage. 

     “I’m mad in the front of my mind, but business-minded in the back.” – Lee Alexander McQueen

    There is plenty of speculation as to why a talented young man in his prime and at the peak of his career would so abruptly take his life. He wasn’t simply a person of tangible success but had also earned deep, genuine friendships from his peers. Edward Enninful, the first black and current editor of British Vogue once accused McQueen of racism. McQueen took that very personally and waited in the lobby of Enninful’s office for hours to plead his case. They became close friends thereafter and Enninful described McQueen as a person with “a dangerous imagination but as a friend, he was simply a comfort.” Some blamed his death on substance abuse – which is sadly common for those working in an ultra-stressful and emotionally draining profession. McQueen’s suicide occurred only days after the death of his mother which could imply that he didn’t cope very well with the loss of a loved one. His psychiatrist said he had anxiety and depression for at least three years.

    Ultimately, we will never have a true, satisfactory answer to any successful suicide. Every individual is different and every decision to end one’s life will remain inexplicable. Nonetheless, in the case of Lee Alexander McQueen, the world remains blessed with his creations which not only enrich our senses but offer a vague insight into his profound imagination. 

    Cyan Mae is a former amateur fighter and Inner-West renaissance person

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