The People of McQueen

A who's who of several key figures in Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui's documentary

Written by Peter Bowen

In making McQueen, filmmakers Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui wanted to explore the depth of the designer's creative imagination. Using his ground breaking runway shows and the people involved with them, the filmmakers charted out the development of his ideas and identity. "We wanted to speak with all of the people in his life who were intimately connected with his creativity," says Bonhôte. The hardest part was gaining their trust by showing them, according to Ettedgui, "we were doing something that hadn't been done before…Once one or two people had agreed to be filmed, they were able to pass on the message that maybe we could be trusted to tell this story, and people began letting us in." To give a little more background on the people featured in the McQueen, we're spotlighting seven of the film's subjects, looking at how they met McQueen and what they have been doing since his tragic death.



Sebastian Pons | Designer

In 1992, Sebastian Pons met Alexander McQueen when both men were students at Central Saint Martins. Pons was an undergraduate and McQueen was finishing his Master of Arts degree. Four years later, McQueen hired the fashion student to make prints for his "Hunger" collection. After Pons finished his own M.A. program in 1997, he joined McQueen at Givenchy. "I finished school on Wednesday, and on the Friday, I was taking a plane to Paris," Pons told Vogue. For the next 13 years Pons served as McQueen's confidant, assistant, designer, gopher, and friend. In 2000, he left to pursue a fashion career of his own. First working in New York City with designer Miguel Adrover, Pons returned to the place of his birth, the Spanish island of Majorca. There he created his first collection, "Itaca," which he presented at New York Fashion week in September 2003. In 2012, he returned with his Victorian-accented collection "Secret Garden."


 

Gary James McQueen | Nephew

When Alexander McQueen babysat his nephews Gary James and Paul in the 1980s, he'd often bring horror films to watch, and then chase his wards about the house trying to scare them. There was, however, more then their love of the dark side that connected Gary to his uncle. In Andrew Wilson's Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath the Skin, Gary explains, "I always liked him because I have an artistic side: I was always drawing, so we had that in common." In 2005, he joined his uncle when he was hired as head textile designer for Alexander McQueen's Men's Ready to Wear. While Gary continued to work for the McQueen label after his uncle's death, he took off on his own in 2012 when he set up his own label, Gary James McQueen, to design elegant, made-to-order scarves. In grouping his scarves in the categories of Life, Death, and Rebirth, Gary pays homage to the same emotional themes that inspired his uncle. For his brand's logo, Gary chose a wolf's head that is adapted from McQueen's coat of arms.



Bobby Hillson | Educator

In 1949, Bobby Hillson attended Central Saint Martins where she studied fashion, learning to be especially resourceful in London's post-war economy. For her final-year show, she repurposed a lavatory chain for a belt. "You had to be creative and you had to be inventive because that was the only way," Hillson explains. After graduation, she became a fashion illustrator working for British Vogue, The Observer, and The Sunday Times. In 1969, she founded a children's wear brand. In the seventies, Hillson returned to Saint Martins to develop a Masters program. "You can't teach talent, but you can teach them to be professional," became her guiding principle. In 1990, when a rough-looking lad named Alexander McQueen asked to be admitted, Hillson knew he was the real deal. In Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath the Skin, Andrew Wilson recounts how Hillson wrote a colleague, "He's got none of the right qualifications, he'll probably leave in the middle, but I'm taking him." In 1992, soon after McQueen graduated, Hillson handed over the reins of the M.A. program to Louise Wilson. She retired to be with her husband Keith Cunningham, a painter who died in 2014. In 2016, Hillson helped curate an exhibition of his work.



Andrew Groves | Boyfriend/Designer

In 1994, a 26-year-old Andrew Groves was introduced to Alexander McQueen, who was just a year younger, by a mutual friend at the gay bar Comptons. Within days, the two would become boyfriends, living and working together until 1996. During that time, McQueen would establish himself as one London's most talented and controversial new designers, and Groves would start his own design career. Soon after they met, McQueen hired him as a designer, because, as Groves jokes, "he realized that I could sew and pattern cut." After they broke up, Groves enrolled in the MA Fashion Course at Central Saint Martins. After designing under the name Jimmy Jumble, Groves switched the label to be his own name. During this period, Groves gained a reputation for smart tailoring and outrageous shows. His 1999 collection "Cocaine Nights," with models wearing dresses draped with razor blades walking on a platform of white powder, became the talk of the fashion press. Over the years, his talent has expanded to teaching and consulting. He has created costumes for such stars as Robbie Williams and Kylie Minogue. Since 2001, he has taught fashion design at the University of Westminster.



Mira Chai-Hyde | Stylist

In 1995, as Alexander McQueen was moving into a new apartment in the rough, artist-filled neighborhood of Hoxton, he ran into Mira Chai-Hyde, a hairdresser from the US who lived on the first floor. Over tea, McQueen knew he wanted this woman in his life and asked her to work on his next show. "From day one, I felt very bonded with him and loved him like a brother," Chai-Hyde told biographer Andrew Wilson. Before meeting McQueen, Chai-Hyde had already made a splash in Britain. In 1989, she was named Vidal Sassoon's "Best Barber" and soon after in 1992 she was credited with creating the faux hawk hairstyle. Soon after she met McQueen, she introduced him to the film The Hunger, which became the theme of the first show they worked on together. Today, Chai-Hyde continues to be one of the most sought after hair stylists in the business, working with top photographers on editorial layouts for such magazines as Vogue , Vanity FairGQ, and more. Over the years, she has styled nearly everyone, from film stars like George Clooney, Brad Pitt, and Matthew McConaughey, to music icons like Sting, Eminem, and Sam Smith.



Detmar Blow | Husband of Isabella Blow

In 1992, Isabella Blow discovered Alexander McQueen when she attended his MA show "Jack the Ripper Stalks his Victims" and bought the whole collection. For the next 15 years until her death, Blow stood by McQueen. Standing beside her was her husband, Detmar Blow. Detmar, a 24-year-old law student, met Isabella in 1988 at a wedding when he told her how much he loved her hat. "She said she liked my coat, eh! But that she wished she was wearing her violet shoes for me, eh!" Detmar recalls in a New York Magazine article, adding, "So the coat met the hat and they fell in love." They were married the next year. While they lived a seemingly fairy-tale life-a sprawling estate at Hilles, (loaned to the couple by Detmar's mother), a flat in London, celebrity friends (like Rupert Everett), Isabella's glamorous work for British fashion magazines, and repeated trips to exotic locales-Isabella would soon drift into depression. After his wife's death, Detmar tried to continue with his life, working at Modern Art, the gallery he'd helped found in 1998 after giving up the law. In year after his wife's death, he met Mara Castillo, a Portuguese artist with whom he had a son, Sasha. Trying to make sense of his grief and cherish his love for Isabella, Detmar penned Blow by Blow: The Story of Isabella Blow in 2010. In 2016, Detmar became engaged to Martha Fiennes, the filmmaker sister of actor Ralph. Detmar continues to live at Hilles House, which he rents out for production and fashion shoots, such as a recent Gucci Men's fashion campaign, and special events like weddings.



Jodie Kidd | TV presenter and international model

In 1995, a 17-year-old Jodie Kidd had just started modeling when she got a call to do the runway show "The Birds" by "this genius new guy," she recalls. "At the fittings I was just like, 'Jesus!' It was great to meet this mad, crazy person, and my God, those outfits!" Kidd would work with McQueen at quintessential moments in his career. During his first Givenchy show in 1997, she recalls in Andrew Wilson's biography Alexander McQueen: Blood Beneath the Skin, "I thought I was going to have a heart attack because I was so nervous. I can't breathe and he [Lee] is hyperventilating." In addition to modeling, Kidd has explored other career options. After racing into the public's attention as a celebrity driver in Top Gear's 2003 "Star in Reasonably Priced Car," she began a new career as a TV presenter. For the next 15 years, she appeared on such shows as Who Do You Think You Are?, Celebrity Masterchef, and Celebrity Antiques Road Trip. More recently, Kidd has moved slightly out of the limelight. The mother of a seven-year-old son, Indio (that she had with Argentinian polo player Andrea Vianini), Kidd's newest job is as the co-owner of the Sussex-based pub The Half Moon. In addition, she remains active in her various charitable organizations, including Help for Heroes. "Modeling was a huge part of my life," recalls Kidd. "Part of my wonderful crazy world and career I had. I've moved through racing cars, polo and now I'm a pub landlady. It's a very confusing life!"




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