McQueen received recognition from Queen Elizabeth II in 2003, when she made him a Commander of the British Empire for his fashion leadership.

"At one level he was a master of the fantastic, creating astounding fashions shows that mixed design, technology and performance and on another he was a modern day genius whose gothic aesthetic was adopted by women the world over," Shulman said.

Humble roots

McQueen was born in Hackney in the East End of London, the son of a taxi driver.

He first worked as an apprentice for traditional Savile Row tailors Anderson and Sheppard and also Gieves and Hawkes before branching out into his own more theatrical designs. 
Later he attended London's Central St Martin's College of Art and Design, long recognised for helping to produce fashion designers and its encouragement of young students.

Isabella Blow, a fashion guru who helped launch McQueen's career by buying all the clothes he made for his graduate show, committed suicide almost three years ago.

McQueen became chief designer at the renowned Givenchy house in 1996 and moved to Gucci as creative director in 2001.

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 fashion week.

One of McQueen's previous collections included a show built around the concept of recycling, with models donning extravagance headwear made out of rubbish.

His last collection, shown in October in Paris, featured extravagant and highly structured cocktail dresses.

McQueen's edgy creations have been seen on numerous red carpets and have been worn by celebrities including Lady Gaga, Sandra Bullock and Cameron Diaz.

'Huge talent'

McQueen's work was widely praised on Thursday by fashion writers leaving the opening of New York Fashion Week at Bryant Park.

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 was a master of integration of technology into fashion, Rubenstein said. "He changed the way so many of us see shows."

Cindy Weber Cleary, another of the magazine's fashion directors, said of McQueen: "He was a huge talent, a master of tailoring and always willing to push the envelope. He was forward thinking."

Cindi Leive, editor-in-chief of Glamour magazine, said: "Everyone in this tent is shocked. ... He was obviously incredibly talented and had a creative energy. There was a real sense of energy in everything he did."

McQueen's mother died last week and the designer's death comes as final preparations were being made for his spring collection to be unveiled in the French capital.