Brilliant and controversial British fashion designer Alexander McQueen, a leading light in the fashion firmament, was found dead in his London home Thursday, his company announced. He was 40 years old.
Police said his death was not being treated as suspicious.
McQueen's sudden death robbed the fashion scene of one of its most innovative and successful young designers. He made his name first in London, then wooed audiences in Paris, New York and Milan to take his place in the upper echelons of the designing world.
His clothes were sexy and distinctive, dramatic and different, perfect for red-carpet presentations and late night rock gatherings.
Acclaim and honors came in waves to the talented, bearded man favored by celebrities like Madonna, Lady Gaga, and Naomi Campbell. He was named British Fashion Designer of the Year on four separate occasions.
Despite the accolades, McQueen clung tenaciously to his privacy, turning down most interview requests and shying away from the post-show limelight other designers craved.
Known for his dramatic statement pieces and impeccable tailoring, he helped raise the profile of British fashion and was recognized by Queen Elizabeth II in 2003 when she made him a Commander of the British Empire for his fashion leadership.
His pieces were coveted and treasured by stylish women across the globe.
"McQueen influenced a whole generation of designers. His brilliant imagination knew no bounds as he conjured up collection after collection of extraordinary designs," said Alexandra Shulman, the editor of British Vogue.
Hal Rubenstein, a fashion director for InStyle magazine said McQueen started out tough and angry -- in his work and attitude -- but softened over time as he felt more appreciated by the industry.
McQueen, he said, was a master of integration of technology into fashion.
"He changed the way so many of us see shows."
Vivienne Westwood, perhaps Britain's most revered designer, said she was "incredibly sorry" to hear of McQueen's death.
Little was immediately known about the circumstances surrounding his death, which came as the fashion elite was gathered in New York for a series of catwalk shows.
Recently posted comments on his Twitter page showed signs of anguish over the Feb. 2 death of his mother.
He said he wanted his mother to rest in peace and said, "But life must go on!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Using an obscenity, he added that he had had an "awful week" and said he had to "some how pull myself together and finish."
A presentation of McQueen's secondary label, McQ, had been scheduled for Thursday's opening day of New York Fashion Week.
McQueen had never been expected at the show, which was quickly canceled.
The designer received his early fashion training at the Central St. Martin's College of Art and Design, long recognized for its fashion-forward approach and encouragement of Britain's talented young designers.
He learned the finer points of traditional men's tailoring at two famous, conservative Savile Row houses: Anderson and Sheppard and also Gieves and Hawkes.
"He was 16 when he came here," said John Hitchcock of Anderson and Sheppard. "He was a boy from Essex, he wanted to learn tailoring. He was a little bit different -- he was very ambitious."
He said McQueen's success had inspired the next generation of designers.
After his Savile Row stint, McQueen started to develop his trademark, more theatrical designs, working with several other brands before first starting his own label in 1992.
He quickly earned a reputation for innovation that lasted until his death. His last name soon entered the fashion lexicon and become synonymous with new and cutting edge.
The company he founded was purchased by the Gucci Group, and he retained creative control of his own brand.
His runway shows -- more often like performance pieces because they were so dramatic, and sometimes, bizarre -- were always a highlight during the Paris ready-to-wear fashi
His edgy creations have been seen on numerous red carpets, worn by A-list actresses, including Sandra Bullock and Cameron Diaz.
Lady Gaga recently made waves when she wore McQueen's spring 2010 lobster-claw shoes in her "Bad Romance" music video.
McQueen's death came days before London Fashion Week, an event McQueen had skipped in recent years.