Art & Photography / AnOther Thing I Wanted to Tell You

Susannah Frankel on Lee McQueen

“There is no way back for me now. I am going to take you on journeys you’ve never dreamed were possible,” stated Alexander “Lee” McQueen.

Dazed & Confused Fashion-able?, Alexander McQueen Guest Edit
Dazed & Confused Fashion-able?, Alexander McQueen Guest Edit

"In the summer of 1998 I was asked by Alexander McQueen to document a shoot featuring a group of people with varying physical disabilities for the September issue of Dazed & Confused.

The designer was guest editing the magazine and this was the cover story. The photographer was Nick Knight, the stylist was Katy England (soon to become Fashion Director of Dazed and later AnOther) and Lee was the Art Director. He invited his contemporaries from Hussein Chalayan and Philip Treacy to Rei Kawakubo to come up with specially commissioned looks for the shoot and they did so. It was also his idea – obviously it was his idea. Who else would have been brave enough even to suggest such a thing? Might it not be too sensitive? Wouldn’t the fact that he was putting all these characters into one shoot then never featuring them again appear tokenistic? How can fashion – viewed by so many people as superficial – possibly think of taking on such a potentially difficult subject? The brilliant thing about the designer – one of the many, many brilliant things about the designer – was that he didn’t care one iota about what anyone else would think. He wanted to show that our preconceptions of beauty are too narrow by far, he said, and to prove that all those cast – painstakingly and predominantly through charitable organisations – were lovely in their own entirely individual way. And, working with a close-knit group of people, just like he always did, he did just that.

It was on that shoot that Lee McQueen introduced me to Jefferson Hack who I have worked with ever since. I was fashion editor of The Guardian at the time and writing the story for that paper but Jefferson asked me to do the words for Dazed too. Right until the end of his life, Lee’s loyalty to both myself and Dazed/AnOther was remarkable and, of course, that was reciprocated. He collaborated on a centrefold for AnOther with Sam Taylor Wood. “I was thinking of the Brothers Grimm: he’s Dick Wittington; she’s puss without her boots,” he said. Later, Fairies – featuring the daughters of friends and family – styled by England again and this time shot by Martina Hoogland Ivanov – was inspired by the suitably strange tale of the Cottingley fairies. Finally, just one year before the designer died, we featured rehearsal pictures taken by Cass Bird of Eonnagata, an improvised dance created and performed by Sylvie Guillem, Robert Lepage and Russell Maliphant, for which Lee created the costumes. He said of the prima ballerina, famously dubbed “madamoiselle non” for her refusal to compromise (the two shared that in common):  “I’ve been asked to do thing like this before but have turned them down because I knew it would only work if I could really feel it. It has to fit.”

Lee Alexander McQueen was a magical man and it was a great privilege to work with him. He seemed to make sense of an industry that is often less than sensible and his memory lives on in all of our hearts. The aforementioned pages are, without exception, highly personal statements and a precious part of his legacy for that."

Fashion genius and prolific designer, Alexander McQueen is one of the most influential and inspiring industry figures of our time. Unique, unexpected and unconventional, his dynamic vision captured the hearts and minds of not only the fashion world but also the general public who through his designs were transported to a realm of fantasy, whirling emotion, raw energy and often subversion. “There is no way back for me now. I am going to take you on journeys you’ve never dreamed were possible,” he stated. “For his is the story of a young man who rose to fame provoking extreme reactions, not only among the public and press but also within the supposedly shockproof fashion industry,” explains AnOther's Fashion Features Director and The Independent's Fashion Editor Susannah Frankel in the opening to her Introduction of the book Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty, published on 31 May by The Metropolitan Museum of Art & Yale University Press.

Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty is published on 31 May by The Metropolitan Museum Art & Yale University Press, and in conjuction with the eponymously titled exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art which runs until 31 July.

Text by Lucia Davies