1. Alexander McQueen was born, trained and worked in London all his life. London was at the heart of McQueen’s world. Research was intrinsic to McQueen’s work, and he was known for having more than 300 references in each of his collections. He once said ‘Clothes don’t come with a notepad ... it’s eclectic. It comes from Degas and Monet and my sister-in-law in Dagenham.’
2. While working at theatrical costumier Berman’s and Nathan’s McQueen was tasked with making and remaking some of the coats and waistcoats based on Andreane Neofitou’s designs for the production of Les Misérables. McQueen also studied Nora Waugh’s The Cut of Men’s Clothes 1600-1900, and used Waugh’s pattern for a man’s 1720s coat (taken from a coat in the V&A’s collections, Museum no. 658-1898) to create a frock coat for the actor Richard Harris in the film King of the Wind (1990).
3. MA Fashion course director Bobby Hillson recalled that in 1990, McQueen walked into her office with a bundle clothes and asked her to give him a job as a pattern cutter. McQueen wasn’t thinking of joining the MA Fashion course, but Hillson offered him a place after seeing his sketches. The course culminated in the MA Fashion show, held on 16 March 1992 in the British Fashion Council tent. McQueen’s was the penultimate of 22 collections. Titled Jack the Ripper Stalks his Victims, the collection was a sensation in the eyes of fashion editor Isabella Blow who described it as “sabotage and tradition – all the things that the 1990s represents.’
4. The ‘bumster’ trousers appeared for the first time in McQueen’s Autumn/winter 1993 collection Taxi Driver. The trousers were described on a price list as ‘French cut trousers (bumsters)’. The waistband was cut 5 cm below that of hipsters, so that they grazed the hipbone, elongated the torso and exposed the lower spine.
5. McQueen’s first professional catwalk show was Nihilism, Spring/Summer 1994 which was shown at The Bluebird Garage on the King’s Road, Chelsea, to the beat of American hip hop artist Cypress Hill’s ‘I Wanna Get High’. McQueen created the show invitations with pages torn from an encyclopaedia that were hand-stamped with the date and venue.
6. McQueen’s first studio was located on Hoxton Square which in the 1990’s served as a creative hub for the Young British Artists. Jay Jopling’s White Cube gallery was also located here. Many of McQueen’s shows and designs took direct inspiration from the work by artists such as Sam Taylor-Johnson, Hans Bellmer and performance artist Leigh Bowery. Nowhere was McQueen’s vision more clearly expressed than the staging of his fashion shows. His shows spectacular final tableau’s where scenes directly inspired by photography or installation art. Rebecca Horn’s installation High Moon from 1991 was the inspiration behind one of McQueen’s most iconic shows No. 13, Spring/summer 1999, and photographer Joel-Peter Witkin’s Sanitarium was the inspiration for the finale in Voss, Spring/summer 2001.
7. His own family tartan ‘MacQueen’ was used for the first time in his Highland Rape, Autumn/winter 1995 collection. He had discovered that his father’s family originated from the Isle of Skye, and the collection referenced the history of the Scottish upheavals and Clearances. The tartan was produced by the Lochcarron Mill in Scotland.
8. McQueen was preoccupied with creating a new vocabulary for the female silhouette, which especially is evident in his final fully realised collection Plato’s Atlantis, Spring/summer 2010. He once said ‘I design from the side, that way I get the worst angle of the body. You’ve got all the lumps and bumps, the S-bend of the back, the bum. That way I get a cut and proportion and silhouette that works all the way round the body.’
9. He collaborated with Paralympic athlete Aimee Mullins for the September 1998 ‘Fashion-able’ issue of Dazed & Confused magazine, and also asked her to model in his No. 13, Spring/summer 1999 fashion show. McQueen wanted to create three different pairs of legs for her to wear; one pair in glass, one pair made of Swarovski crystal and a pair in wood. Only the wooden legs were produced.
10. The natural world was McQueen’s most prominent source of inspiration, and he loved bird watching and scuba diving. He had tanks full of exotic fish installed in his London and Paris studios. He loved watching David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet and his favourite magazine was The National Geographic.
Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, in partnership with Swarovski, supported by American Express, with thanks to M∙A∙C Cosmetics, technology partner Samsung and made possible with the co-operation of Alexander McQueen, runs from 14 March – 2 August 2015.