The Hackney-born son of a taxi driver, Alexander McQueen said he started his career making dresses for his sisters.

As a child, McQueen had no links to the rag trade but opted to start working aged 16 for Savile Row tailors Anderson & Sheppard, subsequently moving on to Gieves & Hawkes and theatrical costumiers Angels and Bermans.

In the early 1990s, he began studying fashion at Central St Martins School of Art and was championed by stylist and muse Isabella Blow. He launched his own label in 1992.

The pair become firm friends until Blow’s death three years ago from suicide. She had attempted suicide several times before and, while suffering from cancer, succeeding in poisoning herself with weedkiller.

McQueen later said her death had left a “big void” in his life and dedicated his spring summer 2008 show at Paris fashion week to her.

Throughout the 1990s, he earned the label of enfant terrible for his designs, a moniker he is said to have loathed.

His most infamous designs included blood-splattered clothes and trousers made to show off the buttocks, while he once used disabled model Aimee Mullins in a show, sending her striding down the catwalk on intricately-carved wooden legs.

One fashion journalist described him as having “raped and pillaged our finer feelings with his extreme sensibility . . . we loved him for it.”

In recent years, McQueen’s reputation as a rebel subsided, to be replaced with deep respect for his work.

Celebrities such as Cameron Diaz and gay icon Lady Gaga flocked to him for dresses, and while he lost the extreme shock element of his work, he continued to surprise and intrigue critics with his love of colour and unusual silhouettes.

The designer was also known for his theatrical shows, using background films, snow storms and unusual props such as robots.

Along with praise from the world’s fashion press, McQueen also scooped the British Designer of the Year award four times between 1996 and 2003 and was awarded a CBE.

In 2002, his Alexander McQueen label was able to really take off when Gucci bought a 51 per cent stake in it, estimated to be worth £80 million at the time.

He was able to open stores in London, New York, Los Angeles, Milan, and Las Vegas and later launched a diffusion line called McQ.

The designer was known to have guarded his personal life in public and rarely gave interviews.

He had not revealed any new relationship before he died, although news reports said a man had been allowed inside his house today and had claimed to be his boyfriend.

But he was confident about his sexual orientation, telling an interviewer: “I was sure of myself and my sexuality and I’ve got nothing to hide. I went straight from my mother’s womb onto the gay parade.”

McQueen is thought to have been grieving for his late mother at the time of his death.

In 2004, Joyce McQueen interviewed her son for a magazine. He revealed his greatest fear was dying before her.