The shocking death of a beloved designer

By Clarissa Cruz
Updated February 19, 2010 at 05:00 AM EST

His clothing was edgy and controversial, but his relationships with A-list stars couldn’t have been friendlier. EW remembers the 40-year-old fashion icon and looks back at his red-carpet legacy.

The fickleness of fashion often rewards outrageousness over originality, spectacle over substance, connections over creativity, which is why Alexander McQueen was a rarity: a designer who blended PR-savvy provocativeness with technical mastery and breathtaking innovation. (Just a few of the trends he launched: precariously low-slung trousers, aggressively feathered dresses, and conspicuously macabre skull-and-bone prints.) From the moment he emerged on the scene in the early ’90s, the designer — who reportedly hanged himself at his home in London on Feb. 11 at the age of 40 — kept his fans enthralled.

”He was talented beyond his years,” said Sarah Jessica Parker, who often wore McQueen’s designs. Other A-list loyalists included Rihanna, Madonna, and Lady Gaga, who owes many of her iconic looks to the designer. Said Parker: ”There has never been anyone like him. And there simply never will be.”

What makes McQueen’s death even more tragic is that he seemed on top of his game: In October, The New York Times described his last haute couture collection as ”dazzling.” His Jan. 19 menswear show was also well received, and he was due to present his Fall 2010 ready-to-wear show in Paris on March 9. But McQueen was battling demons of his own. Still recovering from the loss of his close friend and mentor, fashion editor Isabella Blow, who committed suicide in 2007, he was devastated again when his mother, Joyce, died Feb. 2. (His Feb. 7 Twitter post: ”been a f—ing awful week but my friends have been great but now I have to some how pull myself together.”)

The son of a taxi driver and a schoolteacher, Lee Alexander McQueen (known as Lee to friends) was born in London’s East End on March 16, 1969. The youngest of six children, McQueen quit school at 16 to train on Savile Row, where, the story goes, he famously scribbled an obscene phrase in the lining of one of Prince Charles’ jackets. After graduating from London’s prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, he became head designer of Givenchy in 1996 (where he once dismissed the fashion house’s founder as ”irrelevant”), and moved in 2001 to the Gucci Group as creative director of the Alexander McQueen label, where he remained for the rest of his career. The ”Hooligan of English Fashion” was famous for his often shocking runway shows, which featured amputees as models, humans as chess pieces, and haunting, oversize holograms of Kate Moss.

But behind the showmanship was a classically trained designer known as much for his impeccable tailoring as for his visionary ideas and deliberate crudeness. And while he was certainly a celeb fave — Drew Barrymore and Gwyneth Paltrow modeled his confections at events, and Liv Tyler and Kate Winslet commissioned him to make their wedding dresses — McQueen’s influence transcended the red carpet and found its way into pop culture: Parker wore his creations in the Sex and the City movie; Rihanna, Björk, Madonna, and Lady Gaga sported his designs in their music videos and performances.

”A brilliant artist has left the building,” said Sandra Bullock, who wore an Alexander McQueen gown to the SAG Awards in January. ”My thoughts go out to those who love and care for him, and who are now experiencing the great void he left behind.”—Additional reporting by Archana Ram

Some of the designer’s most indelible fashion moments happened not on red carpets or runways, but on album covers and screens, and at one unforgettable Super Bowl.

The always avant-garde Icelandic singer handpicked McQueen to design the kimono-like dress for the cover of her acclaimed fourth solo album.

His back defiantly turned toward the camera, Bowie let McQueen’s Union Jack frock coat, flecked with knifelike slashes, do the talking.

In a ”wardrobe malfunction” seen around the world, Jackson’s Super Bowl halftime performance turned peep show when Justin Timberlake left her inadvertently exposed.

Big or no Big, Carrie Bradshaw is never one to let heartbreak rain on her fashion parade; hence, this rainbow-hued strapless dress.

McQueen’s ”unofficial muse” premiered both her song and video — in which she dons several of his wild creations — at his spring 2010 runway show.