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Having seen the departure of Stella McCartney, and since parting ways with Christopher Kane, the Kering group is currently focused on investing in those labels it thinks might ape the success of its power brands like Saint Laurent. François-Henri Pinault, Kering’s chairman, has made it clear he would like Alexander McQueen to be among those houses within his stable reporting more than €1bn in annual revenues. No easy feat; the brand is currently listed among several Kering fashion assets, including Balenciaga, and its revenues are estimated to be around a fifth of Saint Laurent’s €1.7bn. That said, with enough investment, and the right creative momentum, it might be done. Saint Laurent was reporting revenues of only €400m in 2010.
For a long time after the premature death of the house’s founder, in 2010, the brand was frozen in the image of Lee McQueen. Designer Sarah Burton has worked exhaustively in the interim to honour his legacy, and his vision, and quite brilliantly so. But with more recent collections you get the sense that she is ready to step forward with the business. And with the opening of a huge new London flagship store on Bond Street in January, and a confident chief executive, Emmanuel Gintzburger, who arrived in 2016, things are quickly moving on.
Not so much creatively, thank goodness. The McQueen silhouette and style in which the brand was founded is still 100 per cent authentic, and Burton’s AW19 collection was no different in that respect. But there seemed to be more focus on the balance in the offering. As the house that designed the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress, and was the star of an otherworldly exhibition at first the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and then the V&A in London, the public perception is that Alexander McQueen makes magical dresses. For the Kering brand to hit its targets, it needs to pivot attention back to daywear and, more crucially, its suits.
This collection opened with a clutch of just those items, all fabricated in heritage fabrics sourced from northern British mills. The McQueen suit is famous for its exaggerated English shoulder, and a very lean line. These suits, in charcoal grey, with drapey asymmetrical hems and feminine details, were more than fit for purpose, they were sublime. Knitwear, daywear, clothes to please the suits, the one thing lacking was a handbag or a key accessory to bank — Alexander McQueen has been living off its earnings on a platform sneaker and a skull-print scarf for far too long.
And what for the fantasists among us? Surely there were magical moments here? Of course, no Alexander McQueen show under Burton would be without them, and it wasn’t long before the sober suiting and knitted daywear took on a very different guise. Jacket sleeves started blooming, hems peeling and one suit metamorphosed into a rose (already the motif of the season elsewhere). Burton had gone on a tour of her home country to find her inspiration, and her narrative about the beauty of northern manufacture and our once proud woollen mills (now tragically dwindled, and perhaps more so after Brexit) was brought to life quite brilliantly here.
A shirt dress was made in buttoned layers of crisp white cotton, but its construction contained the classic detail of a gentleman’s shirt. Panels of houndstooth check, in scarlet, popped from overcoats, or were twirled into decorative rosettes. A silver dress was made from what seemed like millions of sequins, but was actually embroidered in tiny fragments of loom. The last looks were pure fantasy: a black tuxedo jacket with a black corsage at the hip before falling to the floor; and a huge red silk taffeta dress, using bolts and bolts of fabric, all pleated to look like a huge bouquet of buds. It climbed up around the neck and around the shoulders to sit fan-like, and ever so regal. In Burton’s hymn to British manufacturing towns, like her own Macclesfield in Cheshire, here was a queen of the north.
Jo Ellison will be hosting the FT’s Business of Luxury Summit in Madrid on May 19-21. For more information visit ftbusinessofluxury.com
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