02.11.10

My Best Friend McQueen

Alexander McQueen's muse Daphne Guinness recalls private moments with the late British designer and pays tribute to his genius. Plus, a gallery of his most iconic looks and watch video of his 10 best shows.

Notwithstanding the fact that he was one of my best friends and he saved me from many things, Lee Alexander McQueen was a gigantic personality. He was a colossus, a titan. And he had the biggest heart.

We met many years ago. As he told it, he saw me across Leicester Square, and I was wearing one of his coats. So he came up to me and said, “I’m Alexander.” We became so close. Me and Lee and Issie [Blow], we were a little gang.

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Lee was an original. He wasn't someone who referenced things. Many designers have other designers designing their things. His ideas were only his. They came from a deep well of creativity.

He broke the mold. It was never just slap-dash. What he did was not in any shape or form anything that would have been done before. It wasn't, "This year we're going to do 'Ballet Russes'" and then send assistants out to gather material. We would sit there and laugh and joke, and then at some point, he would take a pair of scissors and just start cutting. We would cut things up together. He was connected to the source of creativity. He didn't need anything else.

He saw me across Leicester Square, and I was wearing one of his coats. So he came up to me and said, “I’m Alexander.”

He was a true artist. He chose fashion as his medium to express himself. On the question of whether fashion is art, the verdict would be yes, if you take McQueen as the designer. He was not just a designer, he was an artist. He was just so incredibly chic. He could make the most simple dress, the most imaginative anything. He could do everything. The number of designers I see who wake up in the morning and have no real ideas—Lee didn't run out of ideas, and that's the difference. I don't really know anybody else like that.

What was so cool about the evolution theme of his last collection, what was so genius with the idea of evolution—of humanity coming out of the sea, with all those weird alien shapes—was that in that, there was really the idea of what it is to be a conscious human being. Humans can make a conscious choice between being natural or civilized. Fashion creates civilization. Obviously, he was a titan, and I'm a tiny little person, but we shared this idea of, "If you want to see the state of a civilization, you see the way people dress." You can see it through history. When people say that fashion is frivolous and it's this and it's that: Yes, it is, and so are many other things, but it's also what separates us, what makes us human. There are very few people who connect us to the source in the way he did.

What those of us closest to him saw most clearly was his humor, his sensitivity. He was very shy. He was kind. Most other people didn't do anything practical. He was one of the only ones—and without trumpeting it. He did so much good without anyone ever knowing. He was so generous. He intuitively knew to call me when I was having a problem. I just can't bear this. It's unbelievable. It's just like, who next? There are very few people left. I didn't have any sense this was coming. Actually, I had an intuition yesterday, but I don't want to get into it. I just can't bear it.

He was a colossus and, frankly, irreplaceable—artistically and in my heart.

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Daphne Guinness is a writer, designer, high-fashion collector, and style icon. She lives in London.