It’s called hypocrisy and it usually reaches the worst levels after somebody tragically dies or commits suicide and suddenly the entire world claims you were a genius, an unassuming kind of hero, maybe misunderstood by the rest of the world, but an absolute hero.
There shouldn't have been any kind of hypocrisy surrounding Alexander McQueen.
The British designer found dead yesterday morning in his West End London flat was indeed already considered a genius on a global scale, for his extremely original creations and his fashion shows that were genuinely visionary spectacles evoking fear, mystery and a sort of glamorous deathliness.
The rebel designer, the "hooligan of English fashion" and enfant terrible didn’t have to wait until his death to receive posthumous tributes and honours. After all, in his life he was awarded the CBE, received for four times the British Designer of the Year award, and was also named International Designer of the Year at the Council of Fashion Designer Awards.
Yet again, as the news of his suicide spread, the levels of hypocrisy starting rising: after highlighting how tragic was McQueen's death, most journalists passed onto emphasising how he died just a few days before London Fashion Week and a month before his next collection was launched in Paris. Yes, that's true, but it also sounded like wondering, couldn’t he have chosen another time to do it rather than such a busy time in the fashion calendar?
It was somehow annoying not to find in any article about McQueen's death any criticism or reference to the world that revolved around the designer, to that industry that can make you famous but also directly or indirectly kill you.
Some of us may have forgotten it, but fame, stardom, celebrity friends and money don’t always make you happy or immune to the tragedies of life. Many prominent figures of the Italian fashion scene tragically turned into great examples of such a statement: Gianni Versace was murdered; Walter Albini, Moschino, Enrico Coveri and Gianfranco Ferré were taken away by sudden illnesses; Nicola Trussardi died in a car accident; Maurizio Gucci, grandson of the label’s founder Guccio and chairman of the company, was killed by a hit man hired by his ex-wife. In some cases the fashion scene could undoubtedly be considered as a goldmine of great inspirations for writers and directors looking for a good plot to be turned into a bestseller or a blockbuster.
A few people tried to find a reason behind McQueen's suicide: was it caused by depression at his mother’s recent death and by memories of his late friend Isabella Blow, the journalist who discovered him, bought his first collection and contributed to his success, before committing suicide in 2007? Or could it be explained by reading in between the lines of the financial results of the brand controlled by the Gucci Group? Who knows.
So far McQueen’s death should maybe reopen a debate on what goes on in a superficially glittery and sparkling industry that has the power to make you, bring you to stardom and eventually kill you.
Depression is often rife in the creative industries, suicide was the epilogue of the lives of many troubled musicians. In McQueen’s case such an epilogue is even more tragic because he had managed to build a solid reputation in the fashion world and because he was one of the very few talented British designers who knew how to cut clothes.
Born in London’s East End in 1969, Lee McQueen had indeed learnt the ropes while working as apprentice at Saville Row tailors Anderson and Shephard and Gieves and Hawkes. Apparently, even while working in such traditional places, McQueen managed to preserve his controversial behaviour, ending up writing with a pen the words “I am a cunt” into the sleeve lining of a suit destined to Prince Charles. After working with Koji Tatsuno and spending a period in time in Italy as apprentice at Romeo Gigli's fashion house, McQueen went back to London and completed a master’s degree from Central St. Martins. He launched his own line in 1992 and, from then on, developed his unique aesthetic through memorable fashion shows.
In March 1993 he showcased a collection inspired by the film Taxi Driver that featured bruised and battered models; “Nihilism” followed in October of the same year, shocking The Independent that entitled the review of this collection characterised by history, romanticism and darkness with the words “McQueen’s Theatre of Cruelty”.
Throughout the 90s McQueen shocked the fashion media and even attracted hostile coverage with shows that featured models streaked with tire marks as if they had been driven over, or wearing torn and tattered clothes as if they had been raped.
Eros played with Thanatos, beauty fought with horror on McQueen’s runways, generating highly sexualised and hybridised femmes fatales, who were at the same time terrifying and fragile, fabulous, transgressive and vulnerable.
Yet behind the horror shows, the plastic corsets filled with worms, the jackets with prints of Don McCullin’s war photographs, the rubbish bins, reflections on the creative process, boxing rules and bone architectures, there was always an in-depth historical research.
How tragically funny nobody mentioned that in the recent obituaries. We all stopped at the fact that he came from a working class family and dropped out of school at 16.
Most of us never mentioned the fact that McQueen always showed a deep fascination with historical topics – from the Highland Clearances to the French Revolution – a passion transmitted to him by his late mother, who was a historian and lecturer. Maybe the key to the mystery stands in the loss of a figure who had indirectly inspired some of the most interesting themes for McQueen's collections.
“I design clothes because I don’t want women to look all innocent and naïve, because I know what can happen to them. I want women to look stronger”, McQueen stated in an interview in 1996.
McQueen’s death is tragic, but it’s even more tragic that the designer often defined as "misogynistic" and at times "grand-guignolesque", the artist who amazed everybody with his technological fashion shows and who wanted to protect women with his glamorous, fierce and fetishistic armours, didn’t manage to protect himself from the darkness that eventually swallowed him.
The British fashion scene - or rather the international fashion scene - has lost a uniquely talented designer. The curtain has sadly fallen on the very last fashion spectacle worth seeing, a catwalk show by Alexander McQueen.
It's time for the hypocrital and fake fashion industry to stop and ponder for a while, perform a "mea culpa" and slow down the relentless rhythms of its machine that too often does not take into account the physical and mental conditions and needs of the human beings who put it into motion.