English fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen was born in London to a lower-class family in 1969. In 1985, when he was only 16 years old, McQueen dropped out of school in order to follow his fashion dreams. He first started his career in a tailor shop, but soon received significant recognition and worked for several globally renowned brands such as Gucci, Louis Vuitton, and Givenchy.
Many of his designs are seen as edgy and dark; as McQueen himself stated, “‘Life to me is a bit of a Brothers Grimm fairytale.” His fascination with the Gothic style of art had a strong influence on his pieces; not to mention his life story mirrored that of some famous fairy tales like Cinderella.
One of McQueen’s most memorable themes is the shapeshifter, which was inspired by fictional tales in which characters change from one form to another, as in The Princess and the Frog. He believed shapeshifters were never truly stable, and always ready to transform. One of his shapeshifter-inspired designs was his a bird’s nest headdress, which featured plentiful bird feathers surrounding seven eggs inside of a bird’s nest. According to McQueen, it represented the circle of life — those eggs would eventually hatch to become fierce birds with impressive wings. Another even more notable piece was his butterfly headdress. It displayed an unimaginable number of butterflies surrounding a model’s head, which seemed to be entrapped by the delicate creatures. McQueen made it easy to believe that at any point, the model herself could transform into a butterfly.
He further intertwined his affinity for the Gothic fairytale with feminist ideas. For instance, his warrior princess inspired designs portrayed women as powerful and intimidating, much like Ancient Greek Amazonian princesses. In 1999, he spent 16 hours a day for 10 weeks trying to create a look that emulated the fear-inspiring quality of the mighty Greek Amazons. Some people believe that McQueen was motivated to tell the fairytale of his childhood; the people who had bullied him as a child would have to face his warrior princesses, who were universally feared.
The Oyster Dress is a famous piece by him that expresses this Amazonian strength and beauty; it mimics the yellow dress worn by Belle in the all too well known Beauty and the Beast. It is said that McQueen was “inspired by the journey of a woman, ship-wrecked on an island where she evolves from pirate to conquistador and finally Amazonian goddess.” Thus, it is safe to conclude that his view of a woman’s role in society was ahead of its time.
McQueen himself did not have what many would consider to be a happy fairytale ending, but he did help deliver one to Prince William and Kate Middleton. Although he passed away in 2010, Kate Middleton was still seen donning one of his designs at the royal wedding. To this day, he is known as the dark, Gothic storyteller who helped to create the fairytale endings that we all dreamt of as children.