Alexander McQueen's life story was one of irresistible contradictions: the taxi driver's son who made clothes for some of the richest people on the planet, the foul-mouthed ruffian with a sublime eye and adroit hands. His death, reportedly by hanging, on Feb. 11 was in keeping with this theme: on the cusp of showing a new collection at Paris fashion week, McQueen died the same way he did everything else: unexpectedly, controversially and as unbelievably as possible.
In his short career, McQueen was named British Designer of the Year four times and Designer of the Year in the U.S. once. His clothes were as profanely original as his language. Most famous for his bumster pants, which took low-rise jeans to a whole new low, he combined a gothic, almost romantic sensibility with a robust dose of street attitude. He was a master cutter, structuring garments to change the shape of the body, accentuating what he found sexiest. "There are very few real designers who have a craft, which is to say a sense of cut, proportion and tailoring," fellow British designer Paul Smith said in 2001. "Alexander has it." In an era when creators of fashion are losing prestige and influence to wearers of fashion, McQueen was eccentric and provocative and pig-headed enough to be one of the remaining designers who could inspire people to dress in a new way and to insist on it.
A version of this story previously appeared on TIME.com on Feb. 11, 2010.