Police barricades blocked off part of Brook Street and constables stood watch in front of London's Claridge's Hotel when I checked-in a few years back on a visit to the UK. You see, Madonna was in the house, renting an entire floor in Claridge's for her stay during London Fashion Week, and the Material Girl's visit had to be draped with 24/7 attention and security.
A small number of well-heeled elite travelers - fashionistas - hit the road to catch the big fashion shows in major capitals every year, eager to see the latest creations from famous designers, such as the British fashion leader Alexander McQueen, who has died at age 40. McQueen's passing Feb. 11 was treated as major news in the BBC World telecast I watched last night. Early media reports suggest his death may be a suicide. Whether or not that proves to be fact, it is a dramatic note on which to begin this year's Fashion Week in New York; McQueen had been expected to attend.
I am sorry to hear that the designer's life ended so soon; 40 is not old. There's no telling what he might have come up with had he lived longer.
I find it hard to love the outsized role the fashion industry plays in contemporary global pop culture, however, given fashion's terminal trendiness, its obsession with celebrity, its flashy, pouty runway displays, its love of the spectacle, its gleefully unwearable clothes. Fashion adepts, like McQueen, have real talent, to be sure; they must be masters of material, form, color and movement, and the good ones demonstrate admirable skill. Still, there is much vanity and triviality in the fashion world, and fashion's relevance to the overwhelming majority of the planet's people - especially in hard times - is dubious.
As shown by BBC News, McQueen's most out-there designs look as though they come from both Mars and Venus. 'Reptilian' and 'gothic' are words commentators used to describe them. In a Feb. 12 New York Times account of the British star's career, the writers observed matter-of-factly "Much of what Mr. McQueen crafted for the runway was difficult to sell.'' The Times also noted that McQueen, son of an East End cab driver, was "dubbed the 'hooligan' of British fashion.'' Indeed, he seemed a self-created bad-boy in the vein of the artist Damien Hirst, the actor James Dean, the chef Gordon Ramsay and any number of self-destructive pop music stars.
Fashionistas will continue to travel, of course, haunting Fashion Week in media capitals all over the world, making glad the hearts of restaurant owners, art directors, editors, photographers, Madonna and Lady Gaga, DJs, club owners, limo drivers, bodyguards, caterers, 5-star hotels and airlines with caviar and Champagne premium cabins. The road rolls on.