The apparent suicide of famed British designer Alexander McQueen Thursday shocked both designers backstage and front-row fashionistas alike during the opening day of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.
McQueen was found dead in his home Thursday, days after posting anguished online remarks about the death of his mother. He was 40. The circumstances pointed to a possible suicide, but there was no confirmation from police or McQueen's publicists. Authorities said the death was not suspicious but did not indicate how McQueen was discovered.
The designer's mother died Feb. 2. Some fashion experts speculated that his mood may have also been clouded by pressure to top himself again next month at his catwalk show in Paris.
McQueen is credited with helping revive the once-moribund British fashion industry. His edgy pieces were coveted and treasured by stylish women across the globe and seen on numerous red carpets.
A stunning dress for Sandra Bullock? A special order for Madonna? Something unique for Kate Moss or Naomi Campbell? All these feats seemed easy for the quiet, slim, bearded Englishman who shunned publicity and laughed off the limelight. He was also responsible for one of history's most famous "wardrobe malfunctions": He designed Janet Jackson's Super Bowl outfit, which revealed one of her breasts. Recently, Lady Gaga made waves when she wore McQueen's spring 2010 lobster-claw shoes in her "Bad Romance" music video.
"McQueen has inspired me in every way imaginable in my career," said Christian Siriano. The "Project Runway" winner, now a fixture on the New York fashion scene, who will show his own collection this week. Before his stint on the Bravo show, Siriano worked with McQueen.
News of McQueen's death hit the Bryant Park tents in the first hour of Fashion Week, lighting up Blackberries and iPhones inside the tents at the start of the BCBG Max Azria show.
"You could see Blackberries being shared and shown around," said Fern Mallis, vice president of show organizers IMG, who saw Vogue editor Anna Wintour react first.
Just before the show, Wintour left her front row seat and walked out, "taking a phone call . . . and then she returned a few minutes later. I'm pretty sure it must have been when she got the news. Soon after, everybody else's phones started going off. You could see it happen across the room."
"He brought a uniquely British sense of daring and aesthetic fearlessness to the global stage of fashion," Wintour said later.
With The Associated Press