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banner Saturday, 24 February, 2001, 08:15 GMT
Alexander McQueen: Fashion king
Alexander McQueen: King of British fashion
For the third time, Alexander McQueen has been named British Designer of the Year. Chris Jones, of the BBC's Profiles Unit, looks at the rise of the "bad boy" whose own label will soon be seen around the world.

Alexander McQueen might have found it hard to suppress a giggle when the Prince of Wales handed over the award that confirmed his place at the pinnacle of the British fashion industry.

In his days as an apprentice in Savile Row, McQueen learned how to make jackets at Gieves and Hawkes, where, legend has it, he scrawled "McQueen was here" inside the lining of suits, including those of the heir to the throne.

A model wearing headgear depicting German warplanes
McQueen's headgear can be outlandish
McQueen has always worked hard to cultivate his notoriety in a business where showmanship can elevate you above the throng.

The youngest of six children in a working-class family, he left school at 16, but was never going to become a taxi driver like his father.

Apart from Savile Row, he assembled a CV that included a spell in Milan and an MA at St Martin's College in London, where his flair made such an impact on the influential fashion editor, Isabella Blow, then working at Vogue, that she snapped up his entire degree collection.

Different sort of cleavage

He was soon grabbing headlines with the launch of his own line in London in 1992, with his low cut "bumster" trousers presenting a new view of cleavage.

But the French press was aghast when, in 1996, "the hooligan of English fashion", with his close-cropped hair and Doc Martens, was named head designer at the Paris couture house of Givenchy.

He went on to silence many of his critics with his renowned tailoring skills. Yet McQueen's tenure at Givenchy has not been the most harmonious relationship.


It's a nightmare thinking up new ideas

Alexander McQueen

McQueen has continued to give full rein to his imagination with displays of his own-label wear at London Fashion Week, with American Express helping to foot the annual bill of 250,000.

His extravaganzas have featured a robot spraying black and yellow ink over a model in a plain white dress, another model sporting a variety of miniature German warplanes on her head and an amputee model with a handcrafted pair of wooden legs.

Metaphor

"It's a nightmare thinking up new ideas," he told the BBC, but this year's show was as theatrical as ever, with a vintage carousel replacing the catwalk and women dressed as clowns, a theme chosen by McQueen to explore the dark side of life.

"We show children clowns as if they're funny", McQueen said. "They're not. They're really scary. And the funfair was a metaphor for all that I've been through lately".

For many months, McQueen had felt constricted by LVMH, Givenchy's parent company, whose luxury 40bn empire includes Louis Vuitton luggage, three famous champagne makers, Christian Dior perfume and the Tag Heuer watch company.

Alexander McQueen receives his latest Designer of the Year award from Prince Charles
Alexander McQueen receives his third Designer of the Year award
"When the collections leave my hands, they go into the hands of other people and then whatever I have done on the catwalks is dismissed," said McQueen.

"It just gets completely taken away. I've tried every means possible, but you know the expression, too many cooks."

It was already clear that McQueen and Givenchy would part by mutual consent when his contract expires in October.

But his relations with LVMH's chief executive, Bernard Arnault, became even more strained last December when the French conglomerate's great Italian rival, Gucci, announced it was taking a 51 per cent stake in McQueen's own label company.

Own label

For while most experts agree that Givenchy has failed to tap the talents of Alexander McQueen, it seems Gucci is determined to make its investment pay, with its plan to open 10 flagship shops around the globe in McQueen's own name, selling a wide range of accessories.

A model displays a chic jacket and polo neck
A "wearable" McQueen creation
"While McQueen does fulfil the image of East End barrow-boy done good, he understands the fashion media," says Alistair O'Neill, who is a lecturer and Research Fellow at the London College of Fashion.

"Some of his catwalk designs are unwearable, but others are quite practical, with their lean, angular tailoring. And while Britain does have hugely-creative designers, some don't enjoy commercial success. McQueen does seem to have the qualities to ensure his longevity."

Now 31, "married" in January to his partner, George Forsyth, in a New Age ceremony on a yacht off Ibiza, Alexander McQueen is poised to become a brand recognised by dedicated followers of fashion in high streets around the world.

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