From PEOPLE Magazine Click to enlarge
Just two days before his Jan. 18 show in Milan, British designer Alexander McQueen didn't have fashion on the brain. "He was talking about walking his dogs in Hyde Park," says Godfrey Deeny, who conducted McQueen's final interview for Australia's Harper's Bazaar, "and telling me how to make bouillabaisse and building his wine cellar." It's the softer side of McQueen—who, at age 40, was found dead in his London apartment on Feb. 11—that the world rarely saw amid the shock and awe of his renegade runway shows, which had models walking through rings of fire or presented as asylum patients. But despite his theatrics, McQueen sparked such trends as his "bumster" trousers that led to the ubiquitous low-rise pants. "He was brilliant," says his friend, model Karen Elson. "Maybe from all of that passion comes something dark."

As for what led McQueen reportedly to hang himself at home, some point to the suicide of his mentor Isabella Blow in '07. "He was very shocked," says Isabella's sister-in-law Selina Blow. Others blame the stress of his upcoming show in Paris on March 9. But most link the loss to the death of his beloved mother, Joyce, on Feb. 2. "He always talked about his mom," says Deeny. Five days after her death, McQueen posted on his Twitter account: "been a f------ awful week but my friends have been great but now i have to some how pull myself together." Sadly, he never did.