me, and alexander mcqueen

Like all of you, I could not believe the news this morning either, that Alexander McQueen, fashion's bad boy and mischievous genius designer, committed suicide. I honestly thought he would end his life when Isabella Blow took hers 3 years ago.

Suicide in the fashion industry is not uncommon; I obviously don't know what McQueen was thinking when he ended his own life, but as a creative individual, I suppose I can try to understand...

I'm not a hugely successful designer like McQueen was. In fact, I'm a nobody. And when you're a nobody, with huge ideas, you're constantly criticized for being on a different wavelength as the general public. I can tell you that one of my exes asked me, "why can't you just be normal???" (that's why he's my ex and by the way, what does that mean, to be 'normal'? It's a matter of perception...) Moreover, it is difficult for creative types with wild imaginations and ambitions to succeed without monetary and/or emotional support. So though McQueen was deemed a "bad boy" in the fashion realm because of how provocative his ideas usually were, his ideas inspired many of us fledgling designers, and gave us fuel to push ourselves more and want the impossible even more. Every season, his show was the one I looked forward to the most. My closest friends can attest to the number of times I've raved about McQueen. McQueen and his work only helped to reinforce that anything was possible in fashion. He helped set a precedent--much like Lady Gaga : it's ok to be yourself, in fact, be yourself to the fullest.

There were many times that I even considered ending my own life (not so much now, but when I was younger). I thought this was normal, but apparently, talking to a lot of my friends, it isn't. Sometimes I just felt alone and completely rejected by society, and no matter what I did, I could never feel accomplished or proud of any of my work. Even among my "close" friends, I didn't feel that they really understood or supported me, but at least they let me be myself and make my own way. Some of them told me (and still tell me) to be more "logical" and "safe", -- asking me how could I continue living life if I didn't know exactly how I was going to arrive at my next goal? Some creative people have an acute business sense. It is these words I put in quotations that discourage creative people from flourishing. As an individual, I'm fairly strong, but to keep throwing stones of that type at me, you'll eventually wear me down. Maybe one day I decide that I don't want to get back up again.

I'm fortunate these days to have at least one person by my side to support me and listen to all my ramblings and fantastical ideas. My parents, especially my dad being a furniture designer, were generally supportive of my decisions and pursuits. They didn't want me to live a life I would not enjoy living. But society treated me differently, and I used to worry about "fitting in", as a child; now I've just given up. I don't care to be "understood" anymore, and trying to be "normal" is something I still can't grasp the meaning of.

If I were to lose those important people, I don't know what would happen. I guess the best way I could put it is: taking care of the runt in the litter; loving it and supporting it, believing that it will grow up to be even better than its brothers and sisters, even if it will take time and extra attention, none of which anybody else will provide. The runt grows to be strong, but carries with it everyday your firm belief that it can be greater than the others. One day, you're gone. This is a weird analogy and probably a horrible one, but I think, despite all the praise and fans McQueen had, he was still a human being, and when Isabella Blow passed, it had a profound emotional impact on him. I would too, if the important people in my life suddenly disappeared. I would feel alone again. And coupled with a perpetual unhappiness despite goals being accomplished, why would one have any reason to live? Perhaps it was a combination of the two for McQueen.

And then McQueen's mother was gone. Her death and his suicide might be completely unrelated, or very well be related. I know my parents genuinely care about me, and support me in all I do. They don't tell me that often, but I know they'll always be there for me, even during my darkest hour. But if I were to lose either one of them, in addition to those I hold close to me, my world would crash. It would be the equivalent of starting from zero, standing back up again, trying to make people comprehend my ideas, and not degrade them. Society today is much more accommodating of creative types, a great thing, but there is not one day I don't think about that jerk who told me to be more "normal".

I will never know who McQueen was. But once I heard he committed suicide, I tried to understand it the best I could, given the context of who he was, and stepping back, looking at my own self, considering all the times I wanted to end my own life. A friend mentioned that "suicide is a plague in the fashion industry", but it's not a plague. There are so few of us in the fashion industry, sometimes we forget how small our world is when compared to the actual scope of things. I'm fortunate to have met some passionate individuals, through the blogosphere, but ultimately, 215 out of my 230 Facebook friends could care less about fashion. That's the reality of it. No matter how much praise or recognition any one of us may receive within the industry, the reality isn't kind to us at all. In reality, people don't think we contribute. Maybe we don't help the healthcare reform issue, or even limit the amount of terrorist attacks that occur, but fashion does breathe life into imagination, tapping into the part of the brain people use less and less of now. Our lives would be dull without entertainment (movies, books, musicals...) all created by the imagination. Fashion is merely another arm of that, a less popular one, due to the bad press usually given to it, but to me is the most important (costume design in movies, for one).

Going back to who McQueen was--I found him to be a genius. To get to the point where he was, he must have beat himself up quite a bit. Especially since each collection he creates, trumps the previous one. And to be so largely successful, he must have made many sacrifices. I myself have given up many things since entering design school. I could take the "easy route" too, get a business degree and work for someone else for the rest of my life. But I wouldn't be able to live with myself. Everyday is a struggle, a balance. Putting everything of yourself into something that other people may never understand or care about. Ultimately it is your own opinion that should matter, but as I mentioned at the beginning of this seemingly long post, those stones will beat me up, eventually.

I have since learned to distance myself from those people, and simply stay in my apartment and work on multiple projects I believe in. I don't feel so alone anymore.

But for McQueen, constantly in the eye of the nasty media, despite his close supporters, maybe he felt alone all this time.

An excellent timeline on McQueen can be found on this blog: http://royboticsteez.blogspot.com/2009/05/alexander-mcqueen-timeline-1994-2009.html

(more photos than my post; I can't find good photos of anything before 2001!)

Below, some of my favorite McQueen looks from 2000-2010


Anonymous said...

the 2006 look is my favorite. so tragic. obviously the two deaths are connected. at least he didn't die for some frivolous reason...

Bo said...

okay, suicide may not be a plague in the industry but it does seem to happen pretty often to the public fashion figures. the media may have blown these instances out of proportion although there may be a common thread. perhaps the type of work environment is not healthy or like you said the lack of emotional support. every job has its occupational hazard. access to mental health services is a must.

Eva Internazionale said...

Denise, this is fantastically written and so profound. I can relate to practically everything you said about "fitting in" and "normalcy" and I love how you connected these ideas to McQueen. I'm devastated that he felt suicide was the only way, but I'm even more grateful for what he has given us. RIP.

Mike said...

That was beautiful beyond words and speaks to every artist.

j said...

how devastating. alexander mcqueen contributed greatly to all artists globally.

my ex asked me the same question. as you can see, it obviously did not work out between us. i, myself, have also had those same feelings you outlined, even about suicide. my "abnormality" created a distance between others and myself. my family is not supportive of the true me at all...how come we weren't closer in high school?

wow. i can't believe he is gone. he still had years of life left to create and inspire. beautiful ideas, creation, mind.

WendyB said...

Lovely tribute. I definitely get what you're saying about other people's attitudes. I'm always told that I should make my jewelry "easier to understand" and "more commercial." But when I try going that route (as I used to do) then the same people complained that my work wasn't "differentiated." So I just try to muddle on doing my own thing.

Jamie said...


My friend andrea directed me to your blog. I totally enjoy all your blogs and postings. I went to fashion school too and I can totally relate to you. Esp. about the exes telling/asking you to be "normal". I'm 23 no, but in my younger years, it was really hard to deal with haha I can tell you how many of my exes asked me to change my style or be MORE normal and I just shrugged and though ew. be like everyone else?? NO THANKS! It used to offend me a little bit, some times more than others, but as I got older I began to realize that there really is an "ART WORLD" you're either in it, or you're not. Simple as that. Some ppl with never get you, as you will never get them. But being creative individuals as ourselves, we'll as least try to seeing the world through anyone's eyes, but some ppl don't even know where to to begin as our minds are so complex. haha like my sister, she's like totally normal, went to a typical UC, works at the bank, nice looking girl, and then there's me, the little black sheep in the asian family. It's kinda funny. But anyways, add me on tumblr:

fb: email: jamie.chow@my.brookssv.com

or aim: sw33tximajinazn

we can talk about nonsense haha. take care!