Lee Alexander McQueen, the son of an East End taxi driver who rose to become one of Britain's most acclaimed fashion designers, was found dead at his home in London yesterday after committing suicide on the eve of his mother's funeral.
The 40-year-old had been making the final touches to his spring collection, which was due to be unveiled in Paris next month. He was found hanged at his flat in Mayfair, shortly after 10am yesterday.
He had been struggling to cope with the death, 11 days ago, of his beloved mother, Joyce. Writing on his Twitter page, McQueenWorld, last week, he told followers: "I'm letting you know my mother passed away yesterday if it she had not me nor would you RIP mumXXXXXXXXXX."
A minute later, he added: "But life must go on!" And then on Sunday he wrote: "Sunday evening been a fucking awful week but my friends have been great but now I have to some how pull myself together..."
His company issued a statement saying: "Lee McQueen, the founder and designer of the Alexander McQueen brand, has been found dead at his home... We are devastated and are sharing a sense of shock and grief with Lee's family." He was pronounced dead at the scene by ambulance staff.
A few years ago, in an interview organised by the film-maker Sam Taylor-Wood, Mrs McQueen interviewed her son. When she asked him what his greatest fear was, he replied: "Dying before you." She said: "Thank you, son."
Alexandra Shulman, editor of British Vogue, paid tribute to McQueen last night, saying: "Lee McQueen influenced a whole generation of designers. His brilliant imagination knew no bounds as he conjured up collection after collection of extraordinary designs.
"At one level he was a master of the fantastic, creating astounding fashion shows that mixed design, technology and performance, and on another he was a modern-day genius whose gothic aesthetic was adopted by women the world over. His death is the hugest loss to anyone who knew him and for very many who didn't."
McQueen was one of six children born to an East End taxi driver. He left school at 16 to work as a tailor's apprentice on Savile Row, where his clients included Mikhail Gorbachev and the Prince of Wales. With his ultra-short hair, Dr Martens boots and penchant for shock tactics at his early catwalk shows, McQueen was the enfant terrible of the fashion world. He created "bumsters", trousers with a waistband so low that the buttocks are revealed.
He was discovered by Isabella Blow, the style guru and fashion director of Tatler magazine who killed herself in May 2007 by taking weedkiller after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She bought all the clothes he made for his graduate show for £5,000. They were delivered to her in bin-liners.
McQueen hit the mainstream when he was chosen to succeed John Galliano at Givenchy in 1996. He stayed with the fashion house until 2001 but left to concentrate on his own label, which was 51 per cent owned by Gucci.
He was named British designer of the year four times between 1996 and 2003, received a CBE, and was to be named International Designer of the Year at the Council of Fashion Designer Awards.
Openly gay, McQueen described himself as the "pink sheep of the family". He said: "I was sure of myself and my sexuality and I've got nothing to hide. I went straight from my mother's womb on to the gay parade."
Tributes to a brilliant man
In a world where every man and his dog is a designer... Alexander McQueen was the real deal. [He] was the greatest and most genuinely talented designer I have ever worked with.
Philip Treacy, milliner
He was a genius. What a terrible, tragic waste.
Katharine Hamnett, designer
I am shocked and deeply saddened by McQueen's death. He was a genius and his talent was second to none. Like many, I always cited him as a hugely inspirational leader of world fashion. He will be greatly missed.
Matthew Williamson, designer
I am truly devastated to lose my close friend. His talent had no boundaries and he was an inspiration to everyone who worked with him and knew him. This is a sad day for all who loved him around the world and my condolences are with his family. Naomi Campbell, supermodel
I am devastated and saddened beyond belief. He had a massive influence in fashion (and will continue to do so).
Hussein Chalayan, designer
It's absolutely tragic. It's just horrendous to think that someone was so devastated by his mother dying. I loved McQueen – he had such lovely vision.
Helena Bonham Carter, actress