Designer Alexander McQueen. Photo: WLD

The fashion world was in shock today with news that British designer Alexander McQueen has taken his own life.

The 40-year-old "enfant terrible" was often credited with revitalizing a flagging British fashion industry with his flamboyant womenswear and outrageous runway presentations.

In 1999 he sent amputee model Aimee Mullins down the catwalk in a pair of hand-carved wooden legs and boots, a spectacle which jolted him to the front pages of the world's fashion press.

The designer was devastated last week by the death of his mother. In addition, insiders say McQueen, whose health has been the subject of gossip within the fashion industry for years, never recovered from the suicide three years ago of his close friend, stylist Isabella Blow.

Blow, known for her theatrical hats, discovered McQueen while she was the fashion editor of society magazine Tatler and promoted him with her considerable influence.

The designer was known by personal friends by his real first name, Lee. McQueen explained that when he began selling his designs he was still accepting unemployment benefits from the government, and didn't want to use his legal name in case they found out and cut off his checks.

Another famous anecdote had the young designer, as an apprentice tailor on fancy Saville Row, sewing an obscenity into the lining of a custom-made suit jacket for Prince Charles. He also had unflattering (and unprintable) things to say about contemporary figures such as David Beckham.

McQueen's death has been confirmed by his office, which offered no further details. He was set to debut his new collection at the Paris shows in March.

Update: It is being reported in his home country that the tormented designer is believed to have hanged himself in his London flat mere days after the loss of his mother on Feb. 2.

And check out Alexander McQueen's boundary pushing beauty.