10 things you didn’t know about alexander mcqueen

As we commemorate the five year anniversary of the iconic designer’s passing and celebrate the V&A opening of 'Savage Beauty,' we’ve compiled some tip top Alexander McQueen trivia. From his birdwatching past to his choice words for Prince Charles, here...

by Emily Manning
13 March 2015, 2:50pm

Photography Marc Hom

Who says the Audubon Society isn't cool?
According to a 2005 Guardian profile, the teenage McQueen was an active member of his high school's Young Ornithologists' Club (translation: birdwatching). This adolescent Audubon phase inspired much of McQueen's work, including his spring/summer 95 collection titled "The Birds," as well as the iconic "Birds of Paradise" dress featured in his spring/summer 08 collection — the set of which included a monstrous metal structure that simulated flight patterns with flashing LED lights. Before purchasing his entire graduate collection, Isabella Blow told her husband that McQueen's clothing "moved like birds."

But he didn't just keep his eyes on the skies.
Although birdwatching was an early passion, the designer was also an avid scuba diver and often explored ocean life around the Maldives. Like the birds, these deep sea dives proved fruitful to his collections, most notably the super-sought-after Manta dresses from his landmark spring/summer 10 collection "Plato's Atlantis."

More like MACqueen.
Although MAC Cosmetics is no stranger to flirting with the fashion world — having collaborated with Proenza Schouler and Gareth Pugh among others — McQueen was the maverick makeup brand's first love. Based on Elizabeth Taylor's hardcore eyeshadow looks and strong, smouldering eyeliner in 1963's Cleopatra, McQueen's MAC collaboration hit stores following his fall/winter 07 show. The rest is history. 

Musical McQueen.
We all remember when Lady Gaga went gaga over the designer's armadillo boots, but McQueen had a long musical history before "Bad Romance." In addition to designing one of David Bowie's most recognizable looks — the impeccably tailored patent Union Jack jacket he sported on the cover of twelfth studio album, Earthling — McQueen also designed the Star Man's entire tour wardrobe for shows between 97 and 97...

...but what about Björk?
As Björk's new MoMA retrospective makes apparent, McQueen also had a storied history with the Icelandic avant garde goddess. The singer first commissioned McQueen to design the dress featured on her Nick Knight-lensed Homogenic album cover. McQueen then directed the video for her single "Alarm Call," before reforming the Knight trifecta for "Pagan Poetry," the video that was out-and-out banned from MTV for a hot minute. Directed by Knight, the controversial piece saw Björk grappling with raw emotion in a topless, pearl-covered McQueen creation. The singer even performed a heartbreaking rendition of "Gloomy Sunday" at the designer's St. Paul's Cathedral funeral in 2010.

He didn't just love birds.
According to The Daily Mail, McQueen left $82,000 of his $23 million fortune to ensure his three beloved dogs — Minter, Juice and Callum — would live well long after his passing. The philanthropic designer also bequeathed over $164,000 each to four animal welfare charities following his death.

He left pieces of himself in his collections.
For his early collections — including his Jack the Ripper-influenced 92 Central Saint Martin's graduate offering — McQueen would cut off locks of his own hair and mix them with transparent solutions to create custom labels sewn into his pieces. According to Katherine Gleason's Alexander McQueen: Evolution, this gesture was a nod to the Victorian Era, during which "locks of hair were often exchanged by lovers," some of whom purchased the strands from prostitutes instead of chopping their own.

McQueen was a movie buff.
Although many collections, including his breakout "Highland Rape" and later "Widows of Culloden," were steeped in historical events, McQueen often drew inspiration from films. For fall/winter 93, his first collection after graduating from Central Saint Martins, McQueen explored Robert De Niro's role in Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (which also served as the collection's title). Spring/summer 05 saw references to Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock, and according to The Guardian, the dance piece concluding spring/summer 03 that had Anna Wintour springing out of her seat was based on Sydney Pollack's They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

He had a few choice words for Prince Charles...
After seeing an ad on TV calling for tailors on Savile Row, McQueen's beloved mother Joyce encouraged her young son to apply for an apprenticeship despite the fact that he was only 16 years old. During his time at Gieves & Hawkes, one of the oldest and most respected bespoke tailoring companies in the world, McQueen's clients included Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev and Prince Charles. Yet the teenage McQueen had a few choice words for the Prince of Wales even back then, famously writing "I am a c***" in the lining of one of his jackets.

...but "Meeting the Queen was like falling in love":
In a 2004 Guardian interview between McQueen and his mother, Joyce McQueen, she said, "When you received your CBE last October, you told me and Dad that you locked eyes with the Queen and it was like falling in love," to which her son agreed: "I looked into her eyes, it was like when you see someone across the room on a dance floor and you think, 'Whoa!'"


Text Emily Manning
Photography Marc Hom courtesy Victoria and Albert Museum

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