The death of Alexander McQueen in 2010 cast a long shadow over British fashion. The Savage Beauty exhibition at the Victoria and Albert museum, which has beautifully curated some of his most stand out and inspiring work, has ensured that all eyes are on the designer once again. The exhibit may be a celebration of his work but, like many of McQueen’s catwalk shows, it also shines a light into the darkness and leaves a very deep sense of sadness at a great British talent being taken far too soon.


© Victoria and Albert Museum

Lee Alexander McQueen was only 40 when he died, but he packed a lot into his career and is a name that has become synonymous with British fashion. Growing up in Lewisham, McQueen’s working class routes are something he was immensely proud of. The legacy of this was not only evident in his tireless work ethic but also in the collections themselves, which always had a stubborn, uncompromising quality to them. Lee showed an early interest in dressmaking and began his career with a coveted apprenticeship on Savile Row. He then carried the skills he learnt there throughout his life, with tailoring often taking centre stage in his collections.

It was when McQueen graduated from the prestigious Central St Martin’s that his career really took off. Having caught the eye of the infamous Isabella Blow, she took him under her wing and is credited as being a driving force behind McQueen’s fashion career.        


With his career going from strength to strength, first as Chief Designer at Givenchy and then finally launching his own label, the awards and acclaim kept piling on to the boy from Lewisham. The exhibit at the V&A really highlights what a unique talent McQueen was and it is evident that he was a true craftsman; the sharp tailoring that he took from his years at Savile Row is expertly interwoven with sumptuous draping and the horrific is made beautiful by the sublime. Whether you consider yourself a lover of fashion or someone who considers it frivolous, few could deny that McQueen’s work walks a delicate line between fashion and art.

The sharp tailoring that he took from his years at Savile Row is expertly interwoven with sumptuous draping and the horrific is made beautiful by the sublime.

McQueen’s legacy is not just in the clothes themselves; McQueen’s catwalk shows, like his collections, had an unyielding, unforgiving harshness which made them both shocking and an absolute must-see for industry insiders. The spirit and story of McQueen himself is so ensconced within his shows and his designs that Andrew Bolton, Curator of Savage Beauty, decided against including biographical information as he felt that the collection itself tells the true story of McQueen, from an inspiring and talented craftsman, to a dark and damaged soul.


© Victoria and Albert Museum

Through his work McQueen laid himself bare, pushing the boundaries of the public perception and forcing us to see that beauty and horror are so intrinsically combined it is near impossible to recognise one without the other. With Sarah Burton at the helm, Alexander McQueen the brand will continue but perhaps the biggest legacy that Lee Alexander McQueen leaves behind is the vigour, honesty and emotion that he poured into his work.


It would be easy to remember McQueen as the archetypal tortured artist but perhaps it would be better to remember him as the boy from the East End of London who changed the face of fashion, celebrated the sublime and the shocking and unapologetically forced us all to face the truth.

By Samantha Vandersteen 

About the author

Fashion blogger Samantha has been contributing to the Semple blog for over two years now and loves coming up with fresh ideas for her weekly posts. Samantha is an fblogger through and through and enjoys nothing more than writing about fashion, giving her the perfect excuse for extensive ‘research’ through a little retail therapy. When Samantha is not at her day job or writing for Semple she’ll most likely be found binging on Netflix, eating peanut butter or shoe shopping….sometimes all at the same time – multitasker!

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