Lee McQueen, better known as Alexander McQueen, nicknamed “Alexander the Great” in the fashion industry, had a dark and troubled past. But it wasn’t until last week that his sister Janet spoke out for the first time about the sexual abuse her brother suffered in his younger years.
Lee was born on March 17, 1969 in Lewisham, London. He was part of a working-class family who lived in public housing in London’s Lewisham district. His parents, Ronald and Joyce, supported Lee along with his five siblings on the small income brought in by Ronald’s job as a taxi cab driver and Joyce’s job as a teacher.
At an early age Lee recognized his homosexuality, which brought on extensive teasing by his schoolmates eventually causing McQueen to drop out of school at the age of 16.
McQueen began his career in fashion on a street in London’s Mayfair district that was famous for offering made-to-order men’s suits. He first worked through an apprenticeship at Anderson and Shepphard, a tailor shop, and then he moved to a nearby Gieves & Hawkes. Deciding to further his career in clothes-making, McQueen began working with theatrical costume designers Angels and Bermans—this is where his signature dramatic style of clothing was born.
McQueen received his M.A. in fashion design from the Central Saint Martin’s College of Art & Design in 1992. The collection he produced there was inspired by Jack the Ripper. This collection was later purchased in its entirety by Isabella Blow who eventually became a long-time friend of McQueen, as well as an advocate for his work.
Just a few years after receiving his degree, McQueen became the head designer of the Louis Vuitton-owned Givenchy fashion line. He then released his very own menswear line in 2004.
McQueen pushed fashion to its highest limits and he shocked the public with each and every new design that came to his mind, even in his later years. And now, Janet, McQueen’s older sister has given us a glimpse into the thoughts behind McQueen’s creations.
From the young age of nine-years-old Alexander McQueen was sexually abused by his sister Janet’s violent and abusive first husband—an act Janet was completely unaware of until four years prior to McQueen’s death.
“I think in a way Lee looked up to me as the eldest, even though obviously I came across as weak because of what happened, but what Lee suffered it was just such a shock,” Janet told today’s Times2. “It still is. How did I miss something like that? The day I was told I was shell-shocked. Can you imagine leading a life for so many years, and then finding out something as bad as that? You just can’t grasp it at first. Of course I felt guilt. Who wouldn’t?”
Janet went on to explain that growing up in an environment in which he had to watch her be beaten by the very same man, so badly that she had two miscarriages, influenced McQueen’s work, inspiring him to dress women who, in his exact words, people would be “afraid of…”