Fashion has lost its greatest showman, a man who not only art directed the most memorable fashion experiences of the past 15 years and tirelessly pushed at the boundaries of technical innovation, but who was also a couturier in the traditional sense, always demonstrating a respect for handcraftsmanship and the art of dressmaking that was unrivalled.
McQueen was fashion's last visceral talent – the raw power, the insistence that conventions are made to be learnt then overturned and the sheer courage of his oeuvre were boundless. It's small wonder that the fashion industry – as well, of course, as those who were privileged enough to know the designer personally – is struggling to come to terms with this loss.
The 16 looks finished by his team as a tribute to their mentor and shown to small groups of people in Paris last week were the most beautiful expression of love for the man who had inspired so many throughout his career.
Byzantine art and Old Master paintings were the designer's starting point for these, and the manner in which McQueen took some of the grandest works of art – by Jean Fouquet, Sandro Botticelli, Stephan Lochner, Hans Memling, Hugo van der Goes, Jean Hey and Hieronymus Bosch in particular – and wove them into precious jacquards was just as audacious as might be expected.
McQueen himself would, no doubt, have taken huge liberties with such typically ambitious subject matter. On this occasion, the designer's atelier treated his references with a tenderness that was unprecedented. Metal thread hand-embroideries, gold-tipped feathers, Tudor roses, angel wings and the Madonna, the latter in rich as well as pale, marble tones, all made their way across elaborately constructed pieces, each one entirely different to that which came before it – and each one perfect.
McQueen's aim was always to make clothing that was anything but throwaway, and in that he was at odds with his time. This final collection saw that mindset reach its most heart-rending conclusion.
"We don't all want to dress like soldiers, wearing the same uniform for the same price," Alexander McQueen once told me."There is a viewpoint that people should play safe because they can't afford to frighten their customer but, in fact, the opposite is true. You have to push forward and realise the power of fantasy and escapism. I remember when I first started out, I used to walk past what was then Valentino in Bond Street and just look in amazement at the way the clothes were finished. I was working in Savile Row then, it was about 1986, and it was miraculous, so inspiring. I have always wanted to create pieces that are unique and that have emotional content, pieces that can be handed down, like an heirloom. I want people to get joy out of my clothes."