The inexorable rise of social media has quietly permeated into our everyday lives over the past two years. It serves as a space to re-unite with friends, promote events, and an immediate news source. It is through the vector of social media that the world initially learned the fate that met Lee Alexander McQueen. Within minutes of the statement being announced, a Google search overflowed with news coverage from around the world, sources increasing by the second.

McQueen’s work has long provided a visual commentary on excessive elegance, a glimpse at the darkness simmering underneath the steady composure of everyday life. McQueen’s designs speak to our vanity as much as our core; the marriage of theatre and function acting as the thread that binds its recipient in a powerful and protective layer.

From humble East End beginnings to Saville row, the front row and beyond; McQueen transcended his mentors, rivals and admirers, and now – the pressures and rewards his talent has afforded him. McQueen was as adept at grabbing headlines as he was a finely tuned craftsman, his early shows so excessive and engaging that you could not ignore them – or him.

From the shock-inducing early shows that confirmed his inauguration into the fashion elite, a raw but formidable style and persona emerged.  McQueen’s collections have garnered many awards, winning Designer of the Year on four occasions and awarded a CBE in 2003. Such accolades also mark his ascent from his Saville Row apprenticeship, working for Gieves and Hawkes; to his position as Head Designer at Givenchy in October 1996. It is here a friendship with Tom Ford arguably provided the necessary intervention that saw Ford as nurturer and patron. McQueen’s subsequent tenure at Gucci allowed him the time and space to concentrate on his eponymous label. The man whose work is often referred to as body armour seemed protected himself for a time by Ford’s unwavering support.

While McQueen displayed infrequently in the UK, he is strongly identified with British fashion. The highlights of his career are undoubtedly his live shows; they are his triumphs in communicating emotional and often pertinent social messages through design.

McQueen’s legacy has long been cemented as an iconoclast for British fashion.  The narrow silhouette cultivated at McQueen’s shows , once deemed too severe off the catwalk has long since pervaded throughout the high street, and on virtually every street McQueen’s influence as vanguard for pioneering British fashion is apparent via the popularity of skinny jeans, studs; and iconic McQueen imagery such as the skull and cross-bones motif. There is a prevailing sense of beauty in McQueen’s designs, even if on first encounter stronger emotions are evoked. The complexity of McQueen’s oeuvre is best exemplified when he sewed ‘I am a cunt’ into the lining of a coat designed for Prince Charles, or feelings that emerged after he commented of David Beckham: ‘That man is vainer than the veins running through my dick’. Even when one is faced with a powerfully aggressive style, it is that of a staunchly northern directness draped and balanced in carefully constructed beauty.

McQueen’s imagination and boundless creativity are epitomised at a show that took place in a disused Parisian school when the show opened to an empty catwalk and the chilling and unmistakable noise from a woman’s heels, a reference from Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’.  The sound increasingly grows louder as the figure in the shadows draws closer.  The effect results in a cinematic moment of McQueen’s embodiment of the quiet and sometimes horrifying emptiness from which beauty can still grow.

Even when Kate Moss fell out of favour with most of the fashion world and commercial partners due to her cocaine scandal, a “We love you Kate” shirt featured proudly on the chest of the designer. Perhaps McQueen was drawn to the rougher side of every day life, not in some morbid fascination with darkness but because it shines a light on the normality, the stresses and problems that everyone encounters; that makes us human. The theme of darkness and ambiguity of emotion in McQueen’s work can also be viewed on a superficial level as the flaws he saw in life and within his own surroundings.  It is this ideology, coming from someone so inherently compelling, creative and intelligent that makes the loss of this icon of British design so tragic.