Making it up to McQueen

A designer’s death causes the fashion industry to take a long, hard look at itself

It was amazing how quickly the fashion industry took responsibility for Alexander McQueen’s death last Thursday.

I was sitting in the Bryant Park tent on the first day of New York Fashion Week when news of the designer’s suicide in London broke. The collection being presented on the runway couldn’t hold the attention of a flabbergasted audience fiddling with their Blackberries to find out more details of his death.

That evening, at a dinner for Canadian media hosted by BCBG, the editors, stylists and publicists around the table were still too stunned to eulogize McQueen’s groundbreaking talent but many had already concluded that the business was to blame for his sudden passing.

T Magazine editor Stefano Tonchi was soon quoted on New York Magazine’s The Cut blog saying that the designer was the “first victim of what is a conflict between creativity and business. Today to be a fashion designer, you have to be a superman or superwoman. You have to have nerves of steel.”

On his personal blog, veteran fashion journalist Colin McDowell said that ” the fashion business, insanely predatory in its greed on all levels, should view the suicide of this sad young man as a cry for help from all designers as they burn themselves out in over-production and begin to hate and fear the thing they once so loved.

“There is a price that is too high to pay for even the most beautiful of creations and the healthiest of sales figures, as Lee McQueen’s shockingly untimely death has made clear to even the most bone-headed members of the fashion world.”

I think we’re being a little hard on ourselves.

The number of style writers reminiscing about first encountering McQueen and his low rise jean trend-spawning bumster pants in 1996 proves he had a level of influence and support early on that most young designers can only dream of. His shows, especially the web-savvy Spring 2010 presentation, were an example of creativity and business brilliantly coming together, their spectacle no doubt increasing brand awareness and the bottom line around the world.

There is definitely a debate to be had about the industry’s accelerating workload and why designer collections have to be replenished as often as the racks at H&M but let’s not make McQueen a sad poster boy for fashion reform. In life, it was his constant craft and showmanship that earned him fans and customers. Heaping our garmento guilt on him in death just feels self-serving and fickle.[rssbreak]

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