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Can McQueen label survive?

Can the Alexander McQueen label survive the death of its creator?

Many fashion houses, notably Dior, Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, have been able to carry on without their founder, with varying degrees of success.

There has as yet been no official word on the future of the brand since the mercurial 40-year-old British designer, real name Lee Alexander McQueen, hanged himself at his London home six days ago.

But the French luxury group PPR, which controls the Gucci group, has indicated that it will raise the subject when it releases its 2009 figures on Thursday.

Alexander McQueen, part of the Gucci group since 2001, has 11 boutiques from New York to London and employs 180 people worldwide. According to Gucci, the label went into profit in 2007, but it is considered a lightweight in comparison to the group’s leading brands, Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent.

The question of continuity, which crops up time and again in the world of fashion, is all the more pertinent, professionals say, because McQueen only set up his label a decade ago.

“Christian Dior died 10 years after founding his own house, but during that short period he built a veritable empire and his fame was worldwide,” says Serge Carriera, a lecturer in luxury and fashion at Paris’ SciencePo university.

“By the time he died in 1957, Christian Dior had become synonymous throughout the entire world with haute couture,” agrees fashion historian Florence Muller.

“Despite his notoriety, Alexander McQueen’s fashion house is not yet fully established, which makes its situation now more tenuous, more difficult,” she added.

A professor of fashion, who asked not to be named, said a label needed “a stylistic legacy, like the Chanel suit and pearls, sufficiently distinctive for it to be recognisable” in order for it to survive.

He felt McQueen’s “gothic, baroque, black emotional heritage” was sufficiently intense to justify a successor continuing the label.

It can sometimes take a long time.

Chanel had to wait for the arrival of Karl Lagerfeld in 1983 for the house to get a second wind after the death of Coco in 1971, Carreira recalled.

Similarly John Galliano’s arrival at Dior woke the label up from its “40 year sleep” since the departure of Yves Saint Laurent, he said.

More recently Givenchy – where McQueen worked briefly – Kenzo, Helmut Lang, and Jil Sander are all labels which have parted with their creator after takeovers, without even mentioning Tom Ford, who revived the fortunes of Gucci but was less successful at the helm of Saint Laurent.

McQueen is “a young brand, which even if it has an extremely rich heritage, still does not possess an iconic product,” in the world of luxury goods, in which perfumes and handbags are much bigger money spinners than clothes.

When one buys something by Jean-Paul Gaultier or Sonia Rykiel or McQueen, “one is buying a bit of their universe and the personality of the creator,” says Muller.

Successors will need to “watch over the coherence and integrity of the label,” Carreira says, citing as an example the work of Belgian designer Raf Simons for the Jil Sander brand.

On Tuesday evening, Gucci group paid tribute to the talent of the London-based designer’s creative team, of which he was extremely proud: an indication of the future perhaps?


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