To the sometimes precious, pampered world of haute couture, the British designer Alexander McQueen was the undisputed enfant terrible, a contradictory and turbulent creative genius who rose from an estate in London’s East End to rub shoulders with the rich and famous.
But for fashion stylist Archie Reed, who was McQueen’s lover – on and off – for 12 years, and his closest confidant, he was not just a designer of peerless clothes.
He was a loyal friend, a tender partner, a generous benefactor and an impetuous, sometimes paranoid cocaine-user who squandered millions on drink and drugs before taking his own life at the age of 40 in February 2010.
McQueen thrived on shock, controversy and confrontation. But few in his inner circle were party to what he thought about his high-profile clients.
Reed, now 38, can’t resist a wry smile at the many celebrities who queued up to acclaim him after his death. When, for example, Victoria Beckham paid tribute, she said McQueen was “a master of fashion, creative genius and an inspiration… he made all he touched beautiful and will be desperately missed”.
She was, however, unaware that McQueen became incandescent with rage when he saw a picture of her wearing his classic tartan skirt in 2006. Reed recalls, “He exploded in fury and said, ‘David (Beckham)can wear my clothes but she can’t’. He thought David was hot, but he couldn’t abide Victoria. After he saw her in his tartans he put out the word that she wasn’t allowed to get any freebies any more.”
These days, Reed is also a successful businessman, running pubs in Essex. He met the designer as a child and knew him by his real first name “Lee”, as did his family.
“Lee didn’t rate her as a fashion designer, and used to say, ‘What the f*** does she know about fashion? She’s a pop star, and she can’t even sing’.
“No matter how famous he was, he always used to say that celebrity and celebrities didn’t matter to him.”
McQueen threw a baked potato at Madonna during a dinner party with Elton John. “After it hit her in the head, she refused to talk to Lee, but he didn’t care. He said to me, ‘She’s too stuck up her own backside to worry about anyone else’.
McQueen also took against rock singer Courtney Love after she told her “people” to call his to arrange for Love to pick out one of his dresses from his Bond Street shop.
Reed says “he told me that Courtney had tried to walk out with £40 000 worth of his clothes. He said, ‘What cheek to think that she can walk out with £40 000 of my clothes for free! Bill her!’.”
He could turn on his friends, too, when he thought they let him down. Reed says supermodel Kate Moss was once one of the designer’s closest friends, and called her “a female version of me”. He was loyal to her when Moss was accused of using cocaine in 2005. When the fashion world began to turn against her, McQueen wore a T-shirt saying We Love You Kate.
But their friendship hit the rocks after Moss went into partnership with Top Shop owner Philip Green. McQueen was so furious that he took down Kate’s picture from his office wall and replaced it with one of his sister. Reed remembers McQueen telling him, “Kate can come down, the bitch. I went out on a limb for that girl, and she didn’t even say thank you”.
McQueen also had a falling-out with the formidable Vogue editor, Anna Wintour, over a photoshoot. “They were so alike,” Reed says. “He told me, ‘She’s got a rod up her backside. She won’t compromise’.”
Closest of all to McQueen was eccentric fashion genius Isabella “Issy” Blow, who had discovered him, and used to confide in Reed.
In the months leading up to her death in 2007, Isabella made a series of suicide attempts, but Reed believes that McQueen was not always sympathetic. “He felt Issy’s suicide attempts were attention-seeking and would say, ‘If you are going to do a job, do it properly’.”
The truth, however, was that McQueen was deeply affected by her suicide and took a self-destructive path after her death. “He did a lot more drugs and drink and moved into town, where he was surrounded by sycophants.”
McQueen’s £600-a-day cocaine habit manifested itself in unpredictable behaviour and mood swings. “His drug habit was so extreme that dealers would simply post cocaine through the letterbox of his home, knowing they would be paid later,” he recalls.
Throughout their relationship, the bisexual Reed was married to singer Alexis Reed – and the couple are still together. He also has a daughter, Chelsea, of whom Lee became jealous. “He couldn’t bear the fact that I was sharing my life with my daughter… When I was with her, he wouldn’t leave me alone. He called me a hundred times a day until I came home.”
McQueen showered Reed with gifts, including a commissioned portrait of himself, with a handwritten inscription on the back saying, “To my baby, Reed, love always, Lee”.
Reed is selling the portrait and some of McQueen’s other gifts in an attempt to move on with his life and to raise money for charity.
Their relationship came to an end after McQueen “outed” Reed by describing him as his boyfriend in a newspaper. “Lee and I had words a few days before he died. When I heard the news, I was devastated, but not surprised. He was obsessed by death.” – Mail On Sunday