LONDON, United Kingdom — One of the first fashion shows I ever attended was the Alexander McQueen show for Spring/Summer 2007, staged in the round at the Cirque D’Hiver in Paris. Jonathan Akeroyd, the affable CEO of McQueen, was kind enough to grant my cheeky request for an invitation, and he even let me bring along my college roommate, who was studying outside Paris at the time.
We were seated in the very last row way up in the rafters of the massive round theatre, but still we were mesmerised by McQueen’s collection and his spectacular presentation. Afterwards, we stepped out into the pouring rain late on a Friday night during Paris Fashion Week with a sense of awe and wonderment that lingered for the rest of the evening.
This, I think, is what made Mr. McQueen different. Unlike some of the other celebrated designers of our industry, Mr. McQueen’s message and vision was one that resonated far beyond fashion insiders. Over time, he seemed to find a way to connect with the masses, while still being extremely creative. He didn’t dumb things down or sacrifice his creativity, but he also did not fall into the trap of remaining too conceptual to have a wide-scale impact. Perhaps his clothes weren’t always wearable, but they still managed to connect with average consumers visually and viscerally.
Still, McQueen’s recent collections were often a commentary on contemporary subjects. When the economy crashed, he mocked the entire luxury industry and the collections of iconic houses like Dior and Chanel, and even his own. Last season’s prescient technological extravaganza was the seminal moment of a fashion week season when the industry finally began to take digital media seriously. Mr McQueen combined digital media with his natural flair for showmanship and a little bit of that phenom known as Lady Gaga.
Lee McQueen was also one of the very first designers to take to Twitter and share his thoughts directly with his fans. Twitter is also where McQueen expressed his final messages to the world, following the death of his mother Joyce earlier this month. For now, the @McQueenworld page has been removed from Twitter, but it is still available in Google cache.
But the question on my mind is whether Alexander McQueen the label can continue without Alexander McQueen the man. Once the shock has worn off and the fashion industry has given McQueen a fitting send off, Gucci Group will have to grapple with the fact that the eponymous designer is no longer here. It is one thing to switch around designers at houses with a long history and well-defined codes. But, even with the designer’s prolific output, Alexander McQueen is still a young brand. How Gucci Group deals with the issue of succession and continuing this business is perhaps one of the biggest challenges yet to face Robert Polet.
In the meantime, the rest of us will hold on to our McQueen memories, which fashion folk were exchanging yesterday in between shows — a fitting tribute to the man whose name was on everyone lips and in everyone’s thoughts, even with the New York Fashion Week circus going on.
Just before Christmas I walked into an elevator at London’s Shoreditch House and was briefly introduced to a robust and positive Lee McQueen on the way up to the 6th floor. He was in good spirits, and commented that he liked my friend’s drop crotch trousers. And then, in an instant, he was gone.
Imran Amed is Founder and Editor of The Business of Fashion