Last week I watched the documentary 'McQueen and I', an expose on the life and strife of the distinguished designer, the late Lee McQueen, aka Alexander McQueen. Without question he was an inspiring, ground-breaking and often controversial artist and seeing his life's work through his catwalk shows during the hour long documentary highlighted his achievements and impressive flair for creativity. More than just his creative achievements, the documentary revealed a man who struggled throughout most of his life on an internal level. His catwalk shows were famous for their ability to shock or disturb and in many ways, learning about his life had the same profound effect.
What was most telling was a sense that Lee McQueen felt an overwhelming pressure every moment of his life to be great. Not just good, or even impressive; full-on Great. No surprise really when his artistic name 'Alexander' (his middle name) was selected by his early mentor Isabella Blow in homage to Alexander the Great. And in many ways, learning of the insecurities and vulnerabilities of the man behind the great name struck a chord within many. These days it seems we all exist with a constant pressure to be more than just average. We live in a society that suggests that happiness is directly linked to success in some form or another whether it be money, fame, prestige or societal.
The documentary revealed a sensitive man, who may have been considered brilliant by many, but internally did not appear to have that sense of himself. A remotely negative critique from a single journalist would reduce him tears. When you contemplate the overwhelming amount of work and emotion that he put into creating a single show, it's easy in many ways to relate to his tears but in the same instance you sense a man who has somehow lost touch with reality. So immersed was he in his own world and his work he was unable to separate himself from his public persona. His ambition to succeed meant he took on more and more responsibilities and duties, designing for Givenchy, designing his eponymous line, launching his stores globally and collaborating with other brands. Certainly it is easy to understand his desire to expand and grow his empire. We see the pressure in our celebrities to be all-singing, all-dancing one-man shows and such pressures are certainly not limited to those of celebrity status. We are all made to feel that we must have amazing careers, be wonderful parents, supportive partners with fulfilling social lives and a wardrobe or lifestyle to match. We seem to feel the need to exploit ourselves for all our potential worth even if the result is detrimental to our health and well-being.
Even with his demise, Lee McQueen has the ability to force our minds into uncomfortable spaces that we would prefer not to venture. Because stripped down bare, without all the extras we have built up for ourselves, without our careers, our responsibilities and the approval or envy of others, how many of us could stand there and say we are truly happy in ourselves? Perhaps we could all do with learning to treasure life in it's most simple form.