BBC News Magazine

Page last updated at 10:50 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

Six ways Alexander McQueen changed fashion

McQueen designs

By Rajini Vaidyanathan
BBC News Magazine

From super low-slung trousers to skull scarves, extreme shoes to sharp tailoring, British designer Alexander McQueen, who was found dead on Thursday, was the darling of the fashion pack. But exactly what difference did he make?

Lauded in the style industry and among those who keep a close eye on emerging trends, Alexander McQueen's contribution to fashion could, nevertheless, be lost on many others. But many High Street favourites of the past two decades bear his influence. So how did McQueen shape the things we've worn?


A model wears Alexander McQueen's bumster torusers
The bumster... worn low - very low

Alexander McQueen was the man who made the builder's bum fashionable. His "bumsters", which appeared in 1996, spawned the trend in perilously low-rise, crevice-revealing jeans.

"The bumster for me is what defined McQueen," says Michael Oliveira-Salac, the director of Blow PR and a friend of McQueen's from his early days in the fashion industry. "For me it was the look that put him on the map because it was controversial."

"Those little bumsters were in his first shows. It was like 20 people in England were wearing them back then."

It was a look that spread and spread, although few dared go as low as McQueen's signature buttock-baring style. As hipster jeans became ubiquitous throughout the 1990s and 2000s, a new term, "muffin top", was coined to describe the resulting over-hang of hip flesh caused by low-riding waistbands.

Today the sight of muffin tops over jeans or a sneaky flash of bottom cleavage might not seem too shocking - unfashionable, perhaps, now women's waistbands have edged closer to the waist once more - but when McQueen first sent out his models in bumsters, it was a radical departure and attracted many column inches of comment and debate.

Mr Oliveira-Salac says the style achieved what McQueen set out to do. "It wasn't about it being frivolous, it was about being different."


Naomi Campbell with skull print bag
Skulls on bags, scarves, dresses...

One enduring motif which McQueen transported from catwalk to the High Street was the skull. His trademark scarf bearing the design has become a celebrity must-have. Johnny Depp, Lindsay Lohan, Nicole Ritchie and Cameron Diaz are among the stars who have been snapped wearing it.

"It is a trademark heritage scarf which is being copied by the world and his wife," explains Faye Sawyer, a stylist and fashion editor of 125 magazine. "You can go into any High Street store and buy one," she adds.

The McQueen skull clutch bag is another sought-after accessory that has sparked many a counterfeit.


McQueen trained on Savile Row, then moved to theatre costumiers Angels

McQueen started as an apprentice on Savile Row - the spiritual home of bespoke British men's tailoring. It was grounding that helped earn him a reputation in the fashion world as an expert at creating an impeccably tailored look.

As Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue explains: "He was incredibly clever at cutting clothes."

In cutting his teeth at Anderson & Sheppard, and Gieves and Hawkes, McQueen learned the disciplines of shape and proportion in traditional tailoring. During this time he even made a suit for Prince Charles.

As Eilidh Macaskill, the editor of InStyle magazine explains, McQueen wasn't just about crazy looks on the catwalk.

"He also created beautiful, beautiful wearable clothes… the razor-sharp suit, the pencil skirts, the beautiful prints in the spring and summer collection."

Sawyer believes the way McQueen's clothes were tailored had an impact beyond the catwalk. "The cut is everything. It affected fashion and it filtered on to the High Street."

McQueen model with antlers on head
He had a taste for drama and shock

Birdcages, butterflies, feathered wings, towering heels and even a catwalk filled with water - McQueen is credited with bringing theatrical drama to the catwalk.

"His shows were often very theatrical… I seem to remember one show where there were antlers," says the designer Sir Paul Smith.

McQueen used new technology and innovation to add a twist to proceedings. In 2006 he projected a holographic 3D image of model Kate Moss on to the runway. He also experimented with streaming his catwalk shows live on the internet. Earlier shows featured a volcanic catwalk that erupted in flames, and a giant Plexiglass snowstorm.

"His shows were always ahead of their time, it was like a full-on production," says Sawyer. "He made people think it's not just the hair and make-up. He was making something for people to witness."

And his extravagant and colourful shows were always a hot ticket in the fashion world. "I've seen people fighting in the queues at his shows to get in," she says.

McQueen show from 2000
Theatrical in every way

McQueen liked to shock and surprise people at his catwalk shows, and wasn't a designer who liked to conform to fashion industry norms.

In 1998 he caused controversy when double amputee Aimee Mullins, a former Paralympian, modelled on the catwalk wearing a pair of hand-carved wooden prosthetic legs.

"You always expected the unexpected with Alexander McQueen," says Helen Boyle a fashion stylist and presenter. "Everyone was waiting to see who was on the catwalk, and what they were wearing.

"By putting disabled people on he was taking people out of their comfort zones, making people think, making people sit up in their chairs."

Aimee Mullins at the Paralympics in 1996, left, and at a McQueen event in 2008
He took Aimee Mullins from the Paralympics to the catwalk

Michael Oliveira-Salac says McQueen "turned fashion upside down", by being different.

"Supermodels were never treated like royalty. He was one of the designers who didn't care about that social standing," he says. "When he worked with top models he loved to get them out of their comfort zone."

Mr Oliveira-Salac also cites the fact McQueen was one of the first designers to use Indian models in London.

Model in outlandish make-up
Making the beautiful ugly, or the ugly beautiful?

Some of McQueen's most memorable designs were outlandish, unconventional and plain bizarre.

"He didn't just create fashion, he created spectacles," says the fashion designer Scott Henshall. "He had Sophie Dahl encased with butterflies, he had models sprayed with paint to enter his finale catwalk shows and he really elevated fashion to what it should be."

For McQueen the creative palette extended further than just clothes, says Mr Oliveira-Salac.

"It wasn't just about the clothes - it was the whole look. The lipstick and the make-up was very prominent."

Some of his gothic inspired make-up creations had fashion editors divided. The heavy eyes, and clownishly defined lips were inspired by McQueen's theatrical side. He even collaborated with the cosmetics company MAC to devise make-up ranges.

"He was a creator. He wasn't just a fashion designer," says Helen Boyle. "He just upped the tempo in the way that he designed."

No mention of Alexander McQueen's influence would be complete without reference to the towering high-heeled footwear he was responsible for.

Pop star Lady Gaga managed to get through an entire music video wearing a pair of McQueen's Armadillo Shoes, which are 12cm high and resemble a lobster claw. And he was never one to simply make a hat when he could turn it into part snood, part gimp-mask, part taxidermy installation.

His silhouettes have been credited for adding a sense of fantasy, rebellion and edge to fashion.

Below are a selection of your comments.

I am absolutely mortified. During my fashion degree he inspired me and the fashion world has lost a truly great, innovative, original designer. We have lost out on so much that could of been from this brilliant creator
Caz, Hinckley, Leics

Still in a little bit of a shock about his death it's good to read an article like this remembering his work as it was. What a shame that such achievement is abruptly ended.
Sar, Northants, UK

A true design genius in every sense... daring to do what others are too afraid to. He will be missed.
K Man, London

I personally think he was an artistic genius. Probably his most famous design (of which people don't really know) is the outfit worn by Janet Jackson during the controversial super bowl performance. RIP.
Abe, England

I'm so sad that Alexander has passed he was such a good role model R.I.P xx
Jemima Bland, Bridlington

What a waste of talent. So very sad. On a level with Ozzie Clarke and our very still alive Vivienne Westwood.
Janie, Lancashire

I know little about fashion but his designs were always compelling, magical. The guy was a genius.
Tim Briggs, London

Alexander's fashion was accessible to the masses. It was wearable in the high street and nightclubs which cannot be said for many of his peers. Tragic end to a promising life.
Billy, Belfast

This world is that little more plain now that he has gone. I was working at Vivienne Westwood when I found out and we have all been shocked.
Ash Smallwood , Brighton

Shocking. Trendsetter. Since I lived in London in the 90s I used to follow his uniqueness.
Shirley Shalaby, Cairo, Egypt

Whenever I see anything of his I feel like the boy in the Hans Anderson story watching the king going by naked. Why hasn't someone the guts to say this guy was having a laugh, at all our expense.
Mike Hildrew, Newcastle

I've always loved Alexander McQueen's fashion BUT always hated the low-slung-jeans look. They're all very well on a svelte model but I really resent having someone's hideous belly or bum-crack exposed.
Emma Salter, London

I have never had the pleasure in wearing any of his creations but in my eyes he was not just inspirational but eccentric and lovable this news is so terrible and it is such a loss at an early age the fashion world will never be able to replace such a true genius RIP McQ XXXXXX
Claire, Essex

The world has really lost the biggest star in fashion and I was a big fan of him. As a model it was always my dream to work to find a way/chance the the biggest runway shows and catwalk for a star like Mr. Mc Queen. He will always be in our hearts and he shall be remembered by many who knew his works. A star has fallen. The name lives forever
Agyeman Hampel, Accra, Ghana

Some fashion dressing make you look like a masquerade or a wizard, is that fashion again?
Shao, Abuja, Nigeria

RIP. I'll miss him.
Swetha, India

Why no mention of the enormous amount of satanic symbolism in his designs?
Alex Brodie, London, UK

It's of course very sad that he has died, but if we concentrate on the clothes for a minute - he was not revolutionary other than having new ways to garner attention and get press coverage. What he did in shows and on the catwalk had little to do with clothing, much as what Tracy Emin does has little to do with art.
Dave S, Barnsley, Yorkshire

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