For the past three months the Met has been the site of one of the most riveting—and poignant—collections that has ever stood in its hallowed halls. It contains the repertoire of one of the most striking visionaries of this generation, an extravagant treasure trove of artifacts that were as deeply personal as they were iconic. There’s the enormous feathered shift from The Horn of Plenty collection, a physiologically challenging ensemble of dyed duck feathers (the artist had an avid interest in ornithology) and heavily sculpted shoulders that tapered sleekly into a tiny waist before flaring out into a doleful heart shape. What about the Widows of Culloden collection, which artfully combined his Scottish ancestry with the sartorial foresight of television’s then-reigning trendsetter Sarah Jessica Parker? Or the part-sensual, part-predatory image of a gleaming metal corset that crept from the wearer’s collar, encircled the ribcage jealously, and ended in a half-coiled tail, as though poised to strike? We need only take a look at these singular creations to realize that the legacy of the late, great Alexander McQueen is one that will surely endure for generations to come.
Recently, however, talk of Lee McQueen has converged upon a legacy of a different sort. For nearly a year and a half, the circumstances surrounding the designer’s tragic death were the subject of much public speculation. Despite his acclaim, he was notoriously private. When details of his will broke recently, the press naturally had a field day. “Gone to the Dogs,” blasted one headline. “Pampered Pooches: Dogs Will Get Windfall,” read another.
But trust fund animals are not uncommon among the rich and famous. Did the world not let out a collective groan when the crotchety Leona Helmsley cut her grandchildren out of her will and bequeathed their inheritance to her pooches instead, or when a dog was furnished with $92 million simply for being the great-great-grandson of a celebrity pet?
But eccentric as he may have been, a closer examination of McQueen’s final orders showed that these decisions had hardly been made on a whim. A heartfelt addendum in his suicide note appealed to friends to continue caring for his three dogs after his death. His will revealed a similar sense of compassion, a meticulous plan to ensure a comfortable future not just for his animals, but for those that weren’t his own. Minter, Juice, and Callum may have been recipients of a £50,000 share, but substantial portions of an estimated £16 million fortune were also donated to not one, but four charities for injured animals, including the Battersea Dogs and Cats Home and the Blue Cross Shelter. In addition to the £250,000 sum allotted to his siblings, the designer left £50,000 each to his nieces, nephews, and housekeepers—details of which were glaringly omitted from headlines as well.
In a final clause that signaled an intimate understanding of the many pressures that beset the fashion industry, McQueen requested that the remaining funds be put toward a scholarship for students at Central Saint Martins, where he was famously discovered by Isabella Blow. “When I started out in ’92, I had nothing,” he told reporters in 2003. “But it was a good time, actually, because people were collaborating. Since we had no money, no way of producing things—music, fashion, art, whatever—we all knew that we had to work together.” Evidently his gratitude, like his artistic contributions, can be matched by no other, and he who was unhappy in spite of having it all was only more than happy to give back.