Lee McQueen excerpt from MY AMERICAN FAMILY; IN ONE ERA; OUT THE OTHER, an autobiography by BillyBoy*

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By Billy Boy
In 1989 or so I met Alexander McQueen who was working with Koji Tatsuno, he was 20. He worked for Romeo Gigli for a spell too at that time. I was buying the show samples from Tatsuno and wearing them, such as a long coat of peacock feathers turned into yarn and then embroidered on to fabric, or lavish brocade trapeze jackets which McQueen had worked on. “You should wear that, only you can wear that” he said to me once when I was trying on a much too tight, much too low cut silk dress. “Don’t you think it makes me look a bit like a slut, a tranny slut?” I asked him. “No, looks like you have balls” he replied. “You mean nerve?” He laughed and replied, “Yeah, that too”. He was truly one of the most hilarious and anarchist designers I’ve met, a genuine rebel. He was pursued and encouraged and discovered really by the London fashionista and marraine of high fashion Isabella Blow. Isabella  was the typical madly snobbish British fashion supporter, a bit like an anglo-saxon Anna Piaggi. Before the Gucci Group bought the Alexander McQueen brand in 2000, you’d see Blow and McQueen together at other shows in the 90s, before Gucci. Once I was having lunch at the Savoy in London and they came in. They were accompanied by several stodgy sad clown-faced businessmen. Isabella had her “Fuck You World face” on that day. I waved to them and Alexander got up and came over to my table where I was eating alone. “All alone, not even a dolly with you?” . I  told him I was out on a shopping day and needed to keep my fast speed, being accompanied would slow me down. He found that funny. He ended up staying for 20 minutes with me though I told him he should probably go back to his table and dreary looking lunch dates. He said, “This is the part of work I hate”.
Isabella was a fascinating creature. I felt sorry for her. She usually was in a startling Philip Treacy hat as she “discovered” him as well and Alexander, Lee to those who knew him, looked like a middle-aged punk rocker which surprisingly did not reek of tacky as it often does by over 20-year-old boys which he was. Later Isabella would wear his hats such as the antlers covered in black organza, something which certainly took more than a bit of nerve. He was always on two speeds. He had real multiple layers of charisma and believed in what he was doing though from his O level in school would have you believe otherwise. He claimed he “learned nothing” in school. He seemed confident on the outside one would think when witnessing his quickly rising star and the line of shock techniques he used in his shows and the quips he feed to the gullible press who adored him. Confident and nervy or so it seemed from afar. The moniker of enfant terrible and “the hooligan of English fashion” may have characterized his professional reputation, but I am convinced he was very sad inside. Infact whenever I’d see him, which was usually at something private and not amongst the adoring fashion fans, he was quite shy. He also was a bit self-conscious of his slightly overweight body. He was courteous and charming in private though he was particularly loud, using strings of swear words, in public. He did the fashion dictator role very well. He loved to insult the mighty and powerful in the field. “I can’t get sucked into that celebrity thing because I think it’s just crass”, he said. In April 2008, as he was opening a very exclusive shop on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, he said of Paris Hilton: “If she comes past the shop, hopefully she’ll just keep walking”. You caught glimpses of the real McQueen when you’d look at him at his shows when he thought he was not being looked at.

Yet, he loved to be looked at, when he was “on” for work or out in the world. Once I recall I took a flight from London to Paris. The plane was carrying just a few passengers, it was a really late flight. On it was the soi-disant “Mrs” Christian Lacroix, Françoise in a ridiculous crinolined lace and ruffled dress which made it literally impossible for her to sit down in her seat, an equally absurd enormous hat and matching a ridiculously ugly as only Lacroix could do it handbag and a parasol (in the middle of the night) with ruffles and a big tassle, all in black. Plus, a huge hat box. Alexander and Isabella were on the flight, Isabella in a huge hat too and a very ornate suit outfit. If you did not know it was a fashion designer and if he was not seated next to his mentor Isabella, you’d think he was rough trade with a spikey hairdo and ripped jeans. Myself, in a not too subtle Vivienne Westwood suit of bright red Harris tweed, it looked as if the ladies were trying to “out hat” each other. I said to the the bad boy designer in a tone of mock complicity, “I think your’s wins” as if Isabella was a horse coming in first. He replied, “I think you look pretty tame for a lady” which cracked me up. Unable to keep a straight face long, he laughed too.

Born in London on a council estate to a taxi-driver father and a teacher mother, he was the baby of the six children in the family. He started his career as a brilliant tailor with an apprenticeship at Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard, then joined Gieves & Hawkes and, later, the theatrical costumiers Angels and Bermans. When he just started and was a young cutter he had many famous clients  such as Mikhail Gorbachev and Prince Charles. Anyone who looks one the Internet can see lists of his famous clients from that early age on. He gained admiration when it was discovered later in his career that he slyly drew in tailor’s chalk some graffiti into the lining of a jacket destined for the Prince of Wales. Something to the effect of “I am a cunt” though it was often replaced by four little asterisks when written about in the press those many years later. More humourously, a decade later, in 2001, he won his third British designer of the year award. It was presented by no one less than the Prince of Wales himself. He was named British Designer of the Year four times.

When hired by the frighteningly establishment LVMH, he immediately went to work as designer for Givenchy by insulting the president, his boss, Bernard Arnault calling him “irrelevant”. He had no interest whatsoever in France, the French and it’s culture and though he dressed Audrey Hepburn for the five years he was at Givenchy he considered it “the biggest mistake” of his life and in 1997 call it in Vogue magazine “crap”. In Autumn 1998 he did a truly amazing show which included car-robots spraying paint over white cotton dresses. I was there. It was a thrilling visual spectacle which was something you’d think had been done before, but it hadn’t and seeing it made it that much more amazing. Later he made more controversy by having double amputee model Aimee Mullins showing clothes on the catwalk swanning in on intricately carved cherrywood legs. That made world headlines. He seemed never for a second to consider anyone else’s feeling rather lost in his moods which varied considerably from bright and cheery to black and vile. Not that it was important to consider her feelings as she’s such a bore and publicity fiend, one found it amusing that he refused to invite Victoria Beckham to that London show because he felt that her presence would detract Ms. Mullins catwalk appearance. McQueen’s haute couture collections were filled with controversy all the time. I think (as many  others do) in hindsight that Lee McQueen had more the eye of a contemporary artist than a fashion designer, whereas his contemporary bad boy designer John Galliano is a brilliant fashion designer with truly a mind for clothes and drama. McQueen was about presentation and installation. He did say though, “Some people call me an artist. I don’t see it as art, I see it as a way of life”. He now is equally as known in the art world as in the fashion world and it is thought that he challenged perceptions of the role of fashion in political, social, and cultural criticism. The collections were often very cohesive thematic interpretations making allusion to dramatic media events and crisis though sometimes they just were purely puerile projection that just reached deep inside your own private id, like when he did really, really low slung trousers named “bumsters”, textiles printed with the image of a man being executed in the electric chair and a collection entitled “Highland Rape”. He may not have recognized his work as art but it was art. It was “out of the box”, as one used to say. He was an artist despite himself as many artists can be. One show I vividly recall, as it was a total recall of my love of glamorous disasters, was a recreation of a shipwreck for his spring 2003 collection called “Transitions”. He later did for spring 2005 a human chess game and his fall 2006 show, “Widows of Culloden”, showed a spooky life-sized hologram of scandalous and controversial model Kate Moss dressed in billowing yards of rippling fabric.

For Autumn 2009 in Paris, as part of his spring/summer collection for 2010, he came up with something called “Armadillo” and“Alien” shoes. The Alien was covered in satin, while the Armadillo had grisly, scaly animal skin. Both had ten inch heels, and three of his models refused to wear them, fearing that they might break an ankle or fall over on the runway. One of the “refuseniks” was Abbey Lee Kershaw, who in 2009 had fainted after McQueen had forced her into a teeny little corset. Lady Gaga, managed to “dance” (bearly walk really) in a pair of gold Armadillos though in her video for her single, Bad Romance. It is without question the only redeeming thing in the pop song. It makes the lack of talent, (besides that of chosing superb creators as her entourage and stylists), of Ms. Gaga worth putting up with just for the glimpse of his creations.

Though he was talking about the 2009 costumes he did for Eonnagata, a production at Sadler’s Wells based on the life of the Chevalier d’Eon, an 18th-century French secret agent for Louis XV who spent much of his adult life dressed as a woman, he revealed a great deal about himself in a comment of that time. “I’m interested in the dark psychosis of his mind. There’s a melancholy there, especially after he was exiled and became the puppet of the ladies who lunch”. His mom died on Febuary 2nd, 2010. They appeared to be extremely close and once in 2004 were interviewed together in a newspaper, The Guardian, in which Joyce, his mom, interviewed him. She asked him: “What is your most terrifying fear?” to which he cryptically replied: “Dying before you” . Some of the troubling posts on his Twitter page made clear that McQueen – whose aunt Dolly died a year ago within the same week of his death – had been unsuccessfully battling with his grief.

He was found dead in his Mayfair, London home on the 11th February 2010, the day before his mother’s funeral which took place despite his family immense shock. Some say he was also still depressed about Isabella Blow’s suicide (by taking an overdose of weedkiller) which occured on May 7th, 2007, others are still speculating. At her funeral, he looked not at all the designer coqueluchebut a manly Scot in full kilt regalia. It was a touching image of him and one I held in my mind the longest of him. McQueen was one of the most conceptual fashion designers of the (early) twenty-first century with his amazing ability, his tactile exploration and startling visual shocks. He dressed such trendy stars as Bjork, Penélope Cruz, Rihanna, Sarah Jessica Parker, Nicole Kidman amongst many others.

So many people suddenly were his “best friend” after his death and so many people came out saying he was a genius and all sorts of iconic and over-used  expected compliments. I was just really on the fashionable periphery of Alexander McQueen the famous designer. We exchanged friendly pleasantries and jokes when we saw each other in crowds. He was different one on one though. We once or twice went out for a beer together and talked about loads of things none of which were concerning fashion or even art. Once he was a bit drunk, I think he was speaking Wookiee at some point in the conversation. We went to dinner a few times also, where eventually he’d get wrecked and I’d get what Lala calls “the whole booze and pills routine” which is unfair really since I always could stand up, walk remotely in the direction I needed to head and talk coherently to a certain extent, though it may have sounded like Chewbacca doing Joan Crawford. We could not have been much closer really, not in this life. Ultimately he was alot wilder than me and we could not have been much else than what we were. Amongst his close friends, some whom I am actually very close to, he was known to have a particular brand of a wild side which I was totally not into in any regard. This is why I was always an arms distance away from him. He had that British art student anger which was both a driving creative vitality and force and very self-destructive. This when I found it in anyone kept me somewhat weary of them. I have known so many with this personality type and when I have engaged it only got me in trouble. When he wasn’t flaired up into a rage of creative work and anger at the world, camp humour or sex and drugs, he was incredibly cute.

I thought it was very cute for example, when in the summer of 2000 he married his twenty-four-year-old lover George Forsyth, a documentary filmmaker but less cute when he’d break up with Forsyth not too long afterwards. At least when Lee died he said that the over-done mourning was grotesque. But when they got hitched, I thought it was romantic. The ceremony, which took place in Ibiza on a yacht owned by a friend of supermodel Kate Moss, who was also bridesmaid. The same year, inspired by genius photographer Joel-Peter Witkin, he composed a tableau vivant of a fat nude female with pendulous breasts in a greyish dwarf-headed mask attached to what appears oxygen machine of the 19th-century and reposed on a chaise longue draped in dusty Lady Havisham-esque rags and antlers. Though it was already a tried and true SteamPunk look and nothing really new this classic image remains as a 21st-century icon, I really do think so and I don’t feel it’s an exaggeration. It was certainly the first time it was seen in the context of fashion in Paris.

In recent, it was sortof thought that he “dated” over the sell-by date porno actors. First it was the most often brainless and beautiful Aiden Shaw and then hustler Paul Stag who seems just brainless. Not known for being very bright, his sensibilities for which he seems proud are witnessed by this text in which he puts himself up for sale with on a male escort site in Great Britain;

Current Mr Leather UK Title Holder. European Escort Of The Year 2006
Ex-British Marine Officer and Ex-Cop.I specialise in the leather / rough / uniform / roleplay end of the market but offer a very friendly, discrete, fun vanilla service if preferred.  As Mr Leather UK I recently represented the country at International Mr Leather in Chicago where out of a total of 4600 entrants i placed 5th.
I was the highest placed European so i now also have the title of European Leather man of the year. The contest is 6 days long with many varied rounds.
I have since acted as a judge in the MR Eagle, London contest – appeared on stage at Hard-ON (London) who were/are my primary sponsors and in 10 days time i will be performing at the Hustlaball which should be the UKs biggest ever club night. I will also be working at London Pride next month. Hard-On are taking over next years UK MR Leather Contest after my success and hopefully UK MR Rubber also. Whilst in the US i performed in 5 adult gay films which are soon for release which will enhance my current film catalogue. I am also working with both Spanner and Backlash currently on the ‘extreme pictures’ act that has recently passed parliament”. His rates for “dates” are much less costly than a suit for men by McQueen and he accepts all major credit cards though this costs an additional 15 % premium though you have to look up the rates in four major countries, England, America, Russia, Europe and Switzerland . Stag twenty-four hours after the announcement of his friends death gave an interview for an on-line gay review.
Less disturbing than his choice of boyfriends was McQueen’s amazing elegance in announcing to the public (if it’s true), according to Stag, that he was HIV positive. Knowing the fashion world as well as I do, with so many friends who are in it it was not to my knowledge, common knowledge. Stag, who was referred to in the press as “A blond man who said he was the designer’s boyfriend stood by the front door, sobbing and talking on the phone” claimed;

“He was so proud that he was out to the fashion world as HIV positive and representing it in a good light. He also helped so much with fundraising for the Elton John Aids Trust, THT and Spanner Trust – ‘just tell me how many £10,000 suits you want for your auction Paul and its done’, he used to say. He was so generous.”
“He saw himself as a bloke next door who just happened to be gay – he believed that he was a good counterbalance to a lot of peoples’ views of the gay stereotype. Lee was a geezer, a bloke, a man’s man. An Alpha-male.”
“He was so proud of his awards – particularly the knighthood, he spoke so fondly of his family who I never had the good fortune to meet. He was a one off.”
Knighthood?  Say what?

Also, I love the way he says he “never had the good fortune to meet “ his family. As if! I hate to admit it but Stag is right though in one respect. He was a bloke, he was a one off in the sense everyone is a one off. I am not sure he was an ”Alpha male” because I am not aware one still used this term for anyone. Anyhow, according to the Tyrannosaurus Dictionary of Out-of-Date Expressions, which I needed to consult, an Alpha-male cannot be over-weight like McQueen always was. Besides that it’s a very Bret Easton Ellis nineteen-eighties expression and this particular “one off” had nothing out-of-date about him. If one must refer to him as an Alpha anything, he was an Alpha in his mind and certainly in his electric spirit. Stag should get his definitions right. McQueen was a genuine. No phoney there. He was as new and fresh as the time on the clock on the wall. He had charisma and he made you like him, even if he was swearing down the house.

His death was considered a suicide since he, it was said in the British press, hung himself. It appeared as no accident. I don’t think one can hang one’s self by accident although I have tripped on my shoelaces more than once. Regardless, he used death motifs since forever in his work, even his shop windows had huge Pop art skulls in fabulous eyewear and his latest prints were of stacked bones of the catacombs of Paris. He was known for his Gothic death punk look, again, nothing new but new to commercial fashion and haute couture in Paris. He brought it to the fashion world and made it a “resource” according to one maladroit obituary statement made by again, some hagged fashionista from New York.

So clearly, his death was no accident. Infact, nothing he did seemed like an accident except for a capped front tooth which fell out while eating a Big Mac once which gave him his signature gap in his smile. He was Twittering up until the days before his death with messages ranging from typical and normal to extremely worrisome.

So many platitudes, though sincere probably for the most part spilled into the internet the day he died. My Goodness was it annoying. Christian Siriano, the fifteen minute fashion blip of Project Runway summed up the moral sluttiness marvellously blended with the lack of tact and education of quasi-fashionistas when he said, “It’s the most horrible thing that could ever happen to the fashion industry and I think we lost the greatest artist of my life, really.” Gag!
Speaking of annoying, the immensely annoying and bipolar Bjork wrote a divinely truthful platitude, though I must admit that is was said aptly;
dear lee

i can´t stop thinking how both fierce and feeble you are

it is difficult to grasp this

my condolences go out to your family and friends and all your team

who must be all trying to fathom this

i would like to thank you for all your inspiration

it was so important to me to get to work with you and your team

a real mashup of fertile minds

it was vital to my development

i´m grateful

and all the warmth all around you and your mom


and her team

I love “and her team”. Of what? mood swings?
Patti Smith dedicated a concert to him intermingling his name between strophes. Patti Smith whom normally gets everything she does right and is just a powerhouse of poetry really made a poetical faux pas in this case though.
Lee Alexander McQueen was a friendly acquaintanceship of mine for many years. I liked him alot and admired his talent as so many did and which seems to be quite enormous if you believe all the post-mortem appraisals of his work. He will be really missed by me personally, (as if it meant something to anyone whatsoever!) but also in the world of fashion as it teeters on the cusp of art unsuccessfully. The bloody pretentions of European fashion-makers needed a kick up the bum and he did that so well, one can say, to perfection. The only consolation, though in terms of lack of art in the fashion world it will only even moreso lack it, is that one can console oneself that that tired milquetoast Christian Lacroix went bankrupt the day before his passing. If a true icon, and I don’t think I am exaggerating, must go tragically as the stars and divinities command it, at least one impotent one can go out with a frightened little wimper.
By Billy Boy*

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