Though Alexander McQueen had reached many emotional low points in his career, his closest friends never would have suspected to receive word on February 11 that the designer had hanged himself in his London flat. Trino Verkade, his first employee, and Sarah Burton, his only design assistant, headed to his apartment after receiving a hysterical call from his housekeeper, picking up his close friend Shaun Leane along the way. Leane had known McQueen for twenty years, and spent many nights out drinking with him, where an idea for a collection would be born as a sketch on a bar mat.
Personally, Mr. Leane didn’t believe that Mr. McQueen was dead at age 40, and in that way, though goodness knows he had seen the hurts pile up at his friend’s door. It wasn’t any wonder he always moved to another house after a breakup, Mr. Leane said later.
… He told Ms. Verkade and Ms. Burton that the Spanish-speaking housekeeper must have been misheard. “It’s just a scare. He’s going to be all right.”
Those hurts included the death of his dear friend Isabella Blow, who killed herself in 2007, and that of his mother, who passed away on February 2. After Blow’s death, rumors surfaced that he had betrayed her; years later he would burst into tears while filming an interview for a documentary about her life. Meanwhile, his mom was the earliest, most fervent supporter of his career, while his father and brothers “just didn’t understand what he was getting into,” Leane says.
Considering everything — his focus on work, the pleasure trips conducted while his mother was ill and the fact that Mr. McQueen had a history of being emotionally low and beyond reach — staying at home in his flat the week after her death didn’t seem to warrant unusual concern. Mr. McQueen was grieving — he told Mr. Leane that he couldn’t bear to see his mother buried. Her funeral was on Friday, Feb. 12, in East London. He had also recently learned that one of his dogs, the oldest, Minter, which he had from Hoxton, was sick with cancer. His friends were in daily contact. Mr. Leane told him, “We’ll get through this together.” And he seemed to.
Leane believes McQueen couldn’t deal with his mother’s death. When Horyn interviewed the designer last summer, the topic of therapy came up.
Friends said he refused or shrugged off several attempts to get him to seek psychiatric help. (“God, I don’t think a therapist could handle me,” he said when I raised the topic.)
Mr. Leane said, “Lee always believed he could do anything on his own.” He recalled being thrilled when Mr. McQueen decided to quit smoking and go to a clinic. “He called me literally once he got outside and I said, ‘How did it go?’ And he went, ‘Well, I’m having a cigarette.’ I said, ‘Lee, but you’ve got to give it a chance.’ And he said: ‘Oh, it’s a load of rubbish. Come on, are we going to have a drink?’ And off we’d be, back to square one again.”
Close friend Daphne Guinness was also blindsided by his suicide. She had seen him in October following his spectacular spring 2010 show, and said she “had never seen him happier.” She added, “I really thought he had turned a lot of corners.”