In September 2008, Wonderland talked to the late, great, Alexander McQueen for our “On the Record” section. Read his thoughts about fashion, talent and his personal life below.
There’s a new feeling in fashion at the moment where the designers are the stars. It’s like in the 80s; I think it’s a very old vision that doesn’t relate to the world I live in. I don’t feel famous.
I’m a perfectionist, but up to a point: I know when there’s no hope, when it’s too late and then I just leave it and walk away. It’s only fashion. It’s not like it’s fucking cancer, is it?
My goal is to not be mediocre. To not become such a business machine that it’s only about a pair of slacks.
I’m an emotional retard. I cried the other night watching a young boy singing on that TV show Britain’s Got Talent. He believed in what he was doing so much and was getting picked on at school. He got really upset because he didn’t win.
The earliest memory I have is of being at Pontins holiday camp in Camber Sands. It was 1977 and there was a big swarm of ladybirds on the beach. They went in everyone’s mouths. It was really weird. I’ve been scared of ladybirds ever since.
My first crush was some blonde boy on a campsite in Cornwall. He was there with his brother. It was an innocent crush – the best kind – not a three-way. I was seven years old and was too afraid to speak to him. I doubt he would have lived up to my fantasy anyway.
I got where I am today by relying on my skill, not my personality. I’ve never been someone to cheese-ball my way to the top. That can get you there but it won’t keep you there. You can have the gift of the gab but if your work doesn’t speak volumes, then you’re not going to stay around for long.
My mum keeps me grounded. She always calls me up and says, “I haven’t seen much of your work in the papers recently. You’re not doing so well, are you?” I send her all my press clippings and she’ll say, “I didn’t like that dress very much… What’s going on with those shoes with the square front?” It’s our biggest seller mum! “Well, I wouldn’t wear them.”
I get bored easily. I have the attention span of an ant. Always have had. I spent more time in the coffee shop than at school. The only school activity I enjoyed was doing synchronised swimming with 40 other girls. I like diving now – I’m a water-baby really.
Fashion can sometimes get monotonous because you feel like you’re on a treadmill and have to keep churning out this shit. To get inspired I become aware of everything around me: a billboard, a pattern or a news report. I stay alert and that’s when it comes. That’s why I don’t panic because even if it leaves me just a week to do a collection, that’s enough. I just have to keep looking and it’ll come. It’s always worked.
I don’t think I can live in England forever because the violence is too much. There’s a lot of knife crime and England seems to be falling apart a bit at the moment. There’s too much of a divide between rich and poor – it’s getting more like South America. Right now the government is doing a shit job of unifying the country.
I tried to live abroad a couple of years ago but it only lasted two weeks. I moved to New York and it was fucking awful. I sorted out a whole office there and moved everything but after a few days thought, “What am I doing here? It’s evil!”
I like making mistakes even if it means getting bad reviews. If you don’t make mistakes then nothing new can come. I like people around me at work to make their own mistakes as well, but only once. I don’t have the time to give them more than that because it’s all done under my name.
I’ve been a Buddhist for seven years. I don’t see Buddhism as a religion; It’s a way of life. It’s just there all the time: in the way I treat everyone from a receptionist to a CEO. I love what Buddhism stands for but I don’t really want to come back as a slug!
My biggest regret is not finding compassion earlier in life. But I don’t think I could have made head or tail of it when I was younger. The more I work and the bigger my company gets, the more compassion I need because I’m dealing with a lot of people’s personalities. But I’m not a fucking martyr.
Incompetence makes me angry. If I’ve asked someone for something and they come back and offer me something different that just fucking freaks me out. It means they went down the easiest route. To me everything is about editing. You start off major and then you edit it down to something acceptable. Go for the maximum.
I wouldn’t want to be anyone else. Everyone comes with their problems and I’ve got enough of my own. And I wouldn’t do anything differently because I learnt from it all. I had to fight to study at Central St. Martins because my father, who was a cab driver, didn’t understand fashion. It’s been an education for him and for me. It makes me respect what I’ve achieved.
I love getting older. You start to reflect on the stupid things in your past and you never want to go back, only forward. I’m not scared of aging – I think you become wiser and more distinguished. Now I’m 39 years old I can handle situations that 10 years ago would have made me kick off. The oik and the hooligan is no more, the man is now.
Photography: Tom Allen
Fashion: Anthony Unwin
Interview: Ben Cobb