Born on 17 March 1969 in Lewisham, London, to Scottish taxi driver Ronaldand social science teacher Joyce, McQueen was the youngest of six children. He grew up in a council flatin a tower block in Stratford. He attended Carpenters Road Primary School, started making dresses for his three sisters at a young age, and announced his intention to become a fashion designer.
McQueen later attended Rokeby School and left aged 16 in 1984 with one O-level in art, going on to serve an apprenticeship with Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard, before joining Gieves & Hawkes and, later, the theatrical costumiers Angels and Bermans. The skills he learned as an apprentice on Savile Row helped earn him a reputation in the fashion world as an expert in creating an impeccably tailored look.
While on Savile Row, McQueen’s clients included Mikhail Gorbachev and Prince Charles. At the age of 20 he spent a period of time working for Koji Tatsuno before travelling to Milan, Italy and working for Romeo Gigli.
McQueen returned to London in 1994 and applied to Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, to work as a pattern cutter tutor. Because of the strength of his portfolio he was persuaded by Bobby Hillson, the Head of the Masters course to enroll in the course as a student. He received his masters degree in fashion design and his graduation collection was bought in its entirety by influential fashion stylist Isabella Blow, who was said to have persuaded McQueen to become known as Alexander (his middle name) when he subsequently launched his fashion career.
It was during this period that McQueen relocated to Hoxton which housed other new designers, including Hussein Chalayan and Pauric Sweeney. It was shortly after creating his second collection,“McQueen’s Theatre of Cruelty”, that McQueen met Katy England, his soon to be “right hand woman”,when outside of a “high profile fashion show” trying to “blag her way in”.He promptly asked her to join him for his third collection, “The Birds” at Kings Cross, as “creative director”.Katy England continued to work with McQueen thereafter, greatly influencing his work – his “second opinion”.
McQueen designed wardrobe for David Bowie‘s tours in 1996-1997, as well as the Union Jack coat worn by Bowie on the cover of his 1997 album Earthling. Icelandic singer Björk sought McQueen’s work for the cover of her album Homogenic in 1997. McQueen also directed the music video for her song “Alarm Call” from the same album and later contributed the iconic topless dress to her video for “Pagan Poetry”.
McQueen’s early runway collections developed his reputation for controversy and shock tactics (earning the title “l’enfant terrible” and “the hooligan of English fashion”), with trousers aptly named “bumsters” and a collection titled “Highland Rape”.In 2004, journalist Caroline Evans also wrote of McQueen’s “theatrical staging of cruelty”, in 032c magazine, referring to his dark and tortured renderings of Scottish history. McQueen was known for his lavish, unconventional runway shows: a recreation of a shipwreck for his spring 2003 collection; spring 2005’s human chess game; and his fall 2006 show “Widows of Culloden”, which featured a life-sized hologram of supermodel Kate Moss dressed in yards of rippling fabric.
McQueen’s “bumsters” spawned a trend in low rise jeans; on their debut they attracted many comments and debate. Michael Oliveira-Salac, the director of Blow PR and a friend of McQueen’s said, “The bumster for me is what defined McQueen.” McQueen also became known for using skulls in his designs. A scarf bearing the motif became a celebrity must-have and was copied around the world.
McQueen has been credited with bringing drama and extravagance to the catwalk. He used new technology and innovation to add a different twist to his shows and often shocked and surprised audiences. The silhouettes that he created have been credited for adding a sense of fantasy and rebellion to fashion. McQueen became one of the first designers to use Indian models in London.
McQueen also designed a range of dresses under the name of “manta”, priced at around £2800. The line, named after the manta ray, was inspired by a holiday McQueen took to the Maldives in 2009. The designs have been worn by various models and celebrities, including Lily Cole.