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Skulls and the Maple Leaf: one of Alexander McQueen's last designs Add to ...

Two weeks ago, Holt Renfrew received a shipment of exclusive scarves featuring Alexander McQueen's signature skulls transposed onto maple leaves. At the time, of course, no one knew how prescient that motif would be.

Mr. McQueen's apparent suicide on Feb. 11 came on a day that marked the beginning of New York Fashion Week and as final preparations were being made for his fall/winter 2010 runway presentation in Paris.

Now, instead of a celebration, the fashion world will be mourning the loss of one of its most precocious stars.

In the spirit of the 2010 Winter Olympics, Holt Renfrew had invited various vendors to design something inspired by Canada. The scarves may have been macabre, but they were genuine McQueen. The limited edition of 250, selling for $450 each, began to disappear from select locations as news of Mr. McQueen's death began to spread. Not only is the item unavailable anywhere else in the world, it's likely among the last special designs that bears his name.

Holt Renfrew has darkened one of the windows of the Bloor Street flagship with nothing but his name and the years 1969 to 2010 printed across the glass. On the store's second floor, the three racks that only days earlier featured a substantial selection of his spring/summer 2010 collection, titled Plato's Atlantis, looked decidedly picked over.

While people rushed to claim whatever pieces of his genius remained in stores, the fashion world mourned collectively over Twitter that a star had gone dark far too soon.

"In a total state of shock about McQueen's death," tweeted American fashion rookie Prabal Gurung. "He was inspiring, daring, creative genius and his death is absolutely heart wrenching."

From Vogue's editor-at-large André Leon Talley: "McQueen was an inspiration to so many designers out there."

Dean and Dan Caten, Canada's famous fashion twins, wrote via e-mail, "Alexander McQueen was an extraordinary man with enormous talent. This is a huge loss of a true visionary."

Mr. McQueen, whose own Twitter account was taken down midday yesterday, had tweeted earlier this week that he was having difficulty coping with the death of his mother on Feb. 2. Her funeral was scheduled for today. "Sunday evening been a[n]… awful week but friends have been great now and I have to somehow pull myself together," he wrote, using an expletive.

According to reports, the 40-year-old designer was discovered shortly after 10 a.m., hanged at his London flat on Green Street near Hyde Park. Paramedics pronounced him dead at the scene.

Not since the murder of Gianni Versace in 1997 has a fashion designer died in the prime of his career.

Mr. McQueen's collections have always been considered among the most shape-shifting in the industry. Most recently, he featured exaggerated footwear that resembled lobster claws and kaleidoscopic, aquatic digital prints that, as Hello! Canada's editor-in-chief Ciara Hunt so accurately described in a phone interview, "forecasted Avatar way before the film hit theatres."

More often, and arguably more proficiently than his peers, Mr. McQueen took creative risks that bridged fashion's past and future. His recent collections explored subject matter such as industrialization and ancient Egypt and were inspired by such men of science and math as Charles Darwin and M.C. Escher.

For fall/winter 2008, he depicted a transformation from ominous underworld to regal beauty. The shift was theatrical. "I've got a 600-year-old elm tree in my garden," he told the website Style.com. "And I made up this story of a girl who lives in it and comes out of the darkness to meet a prince and become a queen."

Lee McQueen began life humbly on March 17, 1969, in East London as the son of a taxi driver. He was the youngest of six children. At 16, he left school, accepting an apprenticeship at the Savile Row tailor Anderson and Sheppard, where he would eventually go on to make suits for Prince Charles.

He gained further experience working at Gieves & Hawkes and at Angels, a British theatre costumier, before being hired by Japanese designer Koji Tatsuno at the age of 20. Mr. McQueen moved to Italy a year later to assist Romeo Gigli, known for his mastery of luxury materials, and then returned to London in 1994 to complete his Masters degree in fashion design at Central St. Martins College of Art and Design.

One of his earliest shows, held in a dingy New York space in the mid-90s featured the low-slung "bumster" pant, perhaps one of the antecedents to low-rise jeans.

It was called a seminal moment in the world of fashion.

Hence the industry's fervent interest in all subsequent shows, including those during his five-year stint as head designer at Givenchy.

While Mr. McQueen's collections were not always met with unanimous praise, the openly gay designer fostered deep friendships with many of fashion's most iconic women, from Isabella Blow, whose suicide in 2007 pained him dramatically, to Kate Moss. Lady Gaga, his muse du jour, donned head-to-toe McQueen in her Bad Romance video.

Mr. McQueen's reputation as an enfant terrible is one that is matched by his many achievements. He was honoured four times as the British Designer of the Year between 1996 and 2003.

The Gucci Group currently owns 51 per cent of his company.

There was no immediate word on a funeral, the future of his business or his forthcoming show. But devotees such as Ms. Hunt are not waiting to mourn the loss.

"Put it this way, I'm going to a black tie dinner tonight and I'm wearing my McQueen dress," she said, of her purchase from last season. "I suppose it's my way of saying goodbye."

Follow on Twitter: @amyverner

 

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