The British fashion industry lost one of its brightest stars yesterday with the apparent suicide of Alexander McQueen, who was found hanged at his Central London home.
The designer, 40, had been grieving over the death of his mother, Joyce, who died on February 2. He had been due to attend her funeral today.
The loss of one of the most commercially successful and respected British designers has cast a pall over next week’s London Fashion Week. Friends said that he had been under pressure to complete his autumn/winter women’s wear collection for next month’s launch in Paris. One of his lines, McQ, was due to be shown at New York Fashion Week yesterday but was cancelled. The designer was also known to be upset that a recent relationship had ended.
McQueen recently described the suicide of his mentor — the style icon Isabella Blow — as “the most important thing he had learnt in fashion”. Last year, his Aunt Dolly, who had been a fixture at his shows, also died. During a newspaper interview conducted by his mother, McQueen was asked what was his most terrifying fear. He replied: “Dying before you.”
He announced the death of his mother on Twitter. He wrote: “I’m letting my followers know that my mother passed away yesterday if it she had not had me nor would you RIP mumxx.” He later added: “But life must go on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
By Sunday he had apparently rallied and wrote: “Been a ****ing awful week but my friends have been great but now I have to some how pull myself together and finish with the HELLS ANGLES & PROLIFIC DEAMONS!!!!.”
Two days later his final post said: “I’m here with my girl annie tinkerbell wishing kerry the ****, happy birthday in NY, your 40 now girl time to slow it down we think.”
Annie Tinkerbell is believed to be a reference to Annabelle Neilson. The model and socialite has been described as McQueen’s muse and the pair are reported to have spent New Year skiing in the Alps.
Despite the advice to his friend, McQueen had shown no evidence of slowing down himself after his 40th birthday party last March, which attracted the stars of fashion including fellow his designer Stella McCartney and the supermodel Kate Moss.
The day before his mother’s death he had written: “From heaven to hell and back again, life is a funny thing. Beauty can come from the most strangest of places even the most disgusting places.”
Colleagues and friends had become concerned at his erratic behaviour. But it was still a shock when his body was discovered soon after 10am at the £640,000 ground-floor flat in Mayfair.
A man who claimed to be his boyfriend went inside the flat yesterday afternoon and left looking distraught before the body was brought out at 4.30pm. A post-mortem examination is expected to be carried out today.
McQueen had told a friend that he was excited at the prospect of moving into a new home — believed to be in the same block where he was found.
Alice Smith, a fashion consultant, who had known McQueen since his first collection, said: “I saw him a few months ago and he seemed a bit . . . but I thought he was fine. I knew his mum as well. They had a very close relationship. He used to like to go back to his mum’s and have tea and biscuits on the sofa.”
McQueen, who had an estimated £20 million fortune in 2006, was renowned in the fashion industry for his fragile temperament, often exploding with rage. But Ms Smith said that he was misunderstood: “He was actually quite fragile. He was very sweet but had a wicked sense of humour so people thought he was aggressive.”
Shoppers passing McQueen’s shop in Old Bond Street, Mayfair, laid flowers and a candle outside. The store closed soon after the news of his apparent suicide. A spokeswoman said that it was likely to remain closed in the coming days, as would McQueen’s other stores around the world.
In a statement, the company said: “On behalf of Lee McQueen’s family, Alexander McQueen today announces the tragic news that Lee McQueen, the founder and designer of the Alexander McQueen brand, has been found dead at his home. At this stage it is inappropriate to comment on this tragic news beyond saying that we are devastated and are sharing a sense of shock and grief with Lee’s family.”
Staff leaving the headquarters of his company in Clerkenwell were too upset to discuss his death. There were similar scenes at the McQueen’s family home in Hornchurch, East London, where the designer was due to meet his brothers and sisters before attending his mother’s funeral today.
Born Lee Alexander McQueen, the son of a taxi driver was the youngest of six children. He left school at 16 and went to work at Anderson & Sheppard in Savile Row after watching a television programme about the apprentice shortage in traditional tailoring. He moved to Gieves & Hawkes before working in Japan and Italy.
McQueen returned to London in 1994, hoping to work as a pattern cutter tutor at Central St Martins but was persuaded to enrol in the MA course in fashion design.
He came to the attention of the wider fashion world after being discovered by Blow, then the fashion director of Tatler, who bought all the clothes from his graduate show. The style guru killed herself in May 2007, taking an overdose of weed killer after she was given a diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
Blow recalled how his mother had been instrumental in her own relationship with the designer. “I tried to get hold of him and I kept calling his mother, but he was on holiday,” she said. “She kept saying: ‘He’s not here, he’s not here’. She told him: ‘This crazy person is trying to get hold of you’.”
Mrs McQueen was a social science teacher who became a genealogist. She remained a key figure throughout her son’s career — lending him money to buy materials for early collections, stringing together beads and dyeing materials.
After graduating McQueen set up his own label based in the East End of London. He went on to be named head designer at Givenchy in 1996, succeeding John Galliano, before joining forces with Gucci, which bought 51 per cent of his company.
Mrs McQueen was often seen at his shows. He revealed that she “frequently tells me to keep my mouth shut”.
The designer once described himself as the “pink sheep” of his family and said that he did not come out as gay until his early 20s. He had a civil partnership with the film-maker George Forsyth in 2000. However, last autumn he said that he had ended the relationship two years earlier and had started another with a porn star known as Mr Stag.
During the newspaper interview when McQueen revealed his fear of dying before his mother, she had asked him: “What makes you proud?”
“You,” he replied. “Why?” she queried. “No, ask the next one,” said McQueen. It was the only question he refused to answer.