Remembering McQueen

Yesterday’s passing of Alexander McQueen (Lee to his friends) felt in many ways like the fashion he showed us, surreal. I woke up this morning and felt how could he not be here anymore? He passed away at 40 years old but he seemed much younger. Lee had this amazing spirit of young person – creative, daring, experimental, rebellious. Extremely talented always assumed.

I will never forget that as a young buyer I was obsessed with finding the raw, cool, unusual talent that existed. I was in London reading I.D. magazine and saw a picture of him and one of his pieces he made. In those days there was no Google so finding a phone # and address wasn’t so easy. I tracked him down and scored an appointment. He was located in a “not so nice” part of London that I had never been to before and totally got lost trying to find his place. It was gloomy and rainy. I remember being the only person on the street, except for a few shifty looking characters and stray cats. A desolate place where you think Jack the Ripper is just around the corner. A place where a lone female probably shouldn’t be. I eventually found the place and if memory serves me right, I was lead into a basement. In any case, it felt like one.

I was nervous only because I have this thing about designers and am in awe of their talent. I get shy. It’s always an awkward moment for me when I meet a designer because they know I am there to judge what they do. I hope Lee could sense I just wanted to meet him and “get to know” what he was doing, not judge.

He was lovable. A little overweight but not in a bad way. It suited him. His baggy jeans were riding so low they were just about to fall off. I have a slight memory of few tattoos, body piercings and something about his tooth that escapes me. But he had a warm smile and the piercing sparkle in his eyes made me feel comfortable. And his dog. He was so concerned that his dog running around his messy studio would bother me but I love dogs so we played around a bit and that broke the ice.

He showed me some pieces he made. Many seemed like fabric strips drooping from a hanger but I knew they were the beginning of something really interesting and great. He told me Suzy Menkes, fellow Brit and the acclaimed writer for The International Herald Tribune, had said he needed to make clothes that hung on a hanger properly so they would sell. He was having a hard time with that.

We said our good-byes and I would be in touch. Fast-forwarding we bought his collection and he became a fashion star. A star of a different ilk, though. He inspired us all through his amazing designs and his fearlessness when it came to taking chances. He could put on a fashion show like no other. Sometimes they were hard to watch because you knew it wasn’t easy for a model to walk in 10-inch heels with a mouth brace on in a runway full of water. Yet other times you were taken to a fantasy place in your mind watching beautiful girls ice skate in velvet and fur in a glass box where it was snowing.

Yesterday something very odd happened. I saw a large hawk in a small barren NYC park looking for food. The wingspan was beautiful, full of shades of brown, blacks and cream. He soared between city buildings eyeing small pigeons. I thought of Lee and his references to animals, feathers, beaks and claws. I had this weird feeling that seeing the hawk on the same day we found out about the loss of Lee had significance.

I do hope Lee now feels free like that hawk does. He was meant to fly free in is life and somehow something happened along the way that made him feel he couldn’t fly anymore. He will always be with us and continue to inspire us to be free, to take chances, to express ourselves without so many boundaries. And most importantly, to try and bring beauty into the world. We are grateful for the time we did have with him, although it was WAY too short. We will miss him terribly.

Lee, thank you for your gifts and all you gave, we hope you are flying in peace.
– Julie Gilhart


  1. Posted 02.12.10 at 5:28 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thank you for sharing that story. I was lucky enough to see his ‘Asylum’ show, it was stunning, challenging, provocative. As a Londoner of a similar age, I’ve always felt proud of him, knowing that his success was built on his talent and determination alone.

  2. Mimi deBlasio
    Posted 02.16.10 at 1:20 am | Permalink | Reply


    Thank you for your most eloquent, touching and gentle words.

    You have somehow managed to impart a breath
    of serenity to this profoundly surreal tragedy.

  3. leia
    Posted 02.24.10 at 4:33 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thank you, Julie for sharing. A very beautiful tribute….

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