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LONDON (Reuters) - Supermodels, glossy magazine editors, film and music stars alongside the elite of the fashion world paid tribute to British designer Alexander McQueen on Monday in a moving service at London's St. Paul's Cathedral.
Model Kate Moss and actress Sarah Jessica Parker were among the A-list crowd of more than a thousand people gathered to commemorate the mercurial personality and artistic brilliance of a designer who rose from a gritty east end London boyhood to the front ranks of fashion before he took his own life in February.
McQueen committed suicide aged 40 shortly after the death of his mother. He took a mix of cocaine, tranquilizers and sleeping pills before hanging himself at his London flat, an inquest concluded.
"I loved him," Moss, dressed in black and wearing dark sunglasses, told Reuters outside the cathedral after a service in which U.S. Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour, International Herald Tribune fashion editor Suzy Menkes, a nephew and two friends talked of McQueen's unusual mix of talent, shocking profanity, vulnerability and love of a good laugh.
Lee Alexander McQueen was one of the world's most provocative and revered designers, and shows featuring his "Highland Rape" and "Dante" collections were seen as classics.
When asked to sum up McQueen's career, Parker said: "One of a kind, very ... The service was bitter-sweet - perfect."
Wintour gave an address during which she paid tribute to the personality and design genius of a man whose favorite pastime as a boy was to sit on the rooftop of his apartment tower block and watch the birds circling overhead.
She recalled the dramatic impact of McQueen's designs on the world by recounting the story of his Dante collection, featuring models wearing the "bumster" trousers worn well down the hip, hitting the catwalk in New York in the late 1990s.
"One (model) turned to give me an extremely prominent close-up of her mostly naked back view," Wintour said. "Well, after that collection it was a done deal. Everybody lowered their trousers everywhere."
Icelandic singer Bjork, dressed in giant angel wings and a silver helmet, performed a haunting song called "Gloomy Sunday," which talks in the first person about deciding "to end it all."
Afterwards, bagpipers dressed in tartan kilts played on the stairs outside the cathedral as guests, friends and family streamed out into the sunshine.
"I think Alexander would have loved every minute of it," Hilary Alexander, fashion director for Britain's Telegraph newspaper, said as she left the memorial.
McQueen left school at the age of 16 and gained an apprenticeship at the traditional Savile Row tailors Anderson and Sheppard, moving on to neighboring Gieves and Hawkes.
The former British Designer of the Year winner eventually gained a masters degree in fashion design from London's prestigious Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design.
McQueen had an ability to shock and his autumn/winter 1995 collection "Highland Rape" which featured disheveled looking models in torn clothing was considered a classic example.
Menkes told the congregation gathered in the cathedral -- where Britons have mourned such national figures as Horatio Nelson and Winston Churchill -- that McQueen's shows expressed his morbid side, rage, angst and that the designer once told her his work was like a biography of his own personality.
"I had no doubt -- and nor did he -- that he was an artist who just happened to work with clothing and whose shows were extraordinary vaults of the imagination," Menkes said. "And above all, that his work was deeply personal."
McQueen was named head designer at the staid Paris couture house Givenchy. His first collection for the French atelier was not widely considered to be a success.
But he went on to establish his own label and become part of the Gucci stable of brands owned by French retailer and luxury goods group PPR, drawing in fans, customers and fame and earning a place at the top table of fashion.
"Besides some of the most beautiful clothes that have been created in our times, Alexander has left us an even more exceptional legacy," Wintour said.
"One of brilliant and extraordinary inspiration and of a talent that soared like the birds of his boyhood above us all."
Additional reporting by Mike Collett-White