Perhaps it was the deathly skull inspired designs and mystique surrounding the brand name. Perhaps it was the curiosity on how a brand could continue after its namesake founder/designer passed away by his own. Or, perhaps it was just the fact that everyone one was talking about it. Whatever the reason, the Alexander McQueen store opening and fashion show held last week in Beijing created the more buzz than any other international brand during fashion week.
As covered in my last post on store openings, Alexander McQueen just opened their world’s biggest store in Beijing’s Sanlitun North Village. The McQueen store takes the brand’s austere, death themed DNA and creates a store décor devoid of all colour except for white and only allowing glass cabinets, display shelves hanging like stalactites and a skeletonesque staircase to puncture the mood. Any color of the brand is clearly intended to be brought out by the garments and accessories collections, where the skull emblazoned prints and pirates gold inspired accessories whisper “buy me, buy me, buy me” from the grave.
Speaking with McQueen designer Sarah Burton at the intimate store opening party last week, she related how surprised and impressed she was at the sense of fashion young Chinese displayed. It was her first trip to China and despite jet lag and the pressures of media interviews and preparing the fashion show she was absolutely lovely and a pleasure to talk to.
The Alexander McQueen fashion show was held in an old factory in Beijing’s 798 Art District – complete with dreary grey cement walls that complimented the mood of the store and latest fashion collection. Beijing’s 798 Art District, once a thriving heavy industry facility is filled with galleries and design boutiques and increasingly popular for fashion events and exhibitions due to its industrial chic demeanor. (DVFs Journey of a Dress Exhibition was held in a not dissimilar old factory). Although the fashion designs had already been debuted at the recent Paris Fashion Week, designer Sarah Burton made a bold statement by using an all-Asian cast of models for the show. Whereas most international fashion brand shows held in China feature a mix of Western and Chinese models, this was never an option for Burton. “They brought me both Caucasian and Chinese models for the casting, but being in China I felt it only right to use all Chinese models”, Ms. Burton told me.
In part, Chinese consumers opt for international luxury brands because they want to look foreign, so using non-Asian models in fashion shows can make sense. In my mind McQueen isn’t the kind of brand people wear to look foreign. McQueen is a brand with an increasing (cult) following of fashionable young Chinese who know and love the brand for its designs and what is it, not because it makes them feel or look British. The brand has also gained momentum after Sarah Burton designed the Duchess of Cambridge – Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed in China. Therefore for Burton using only Chinese models made perfect sense, and also demonstrated a respect and understanding of her Chinese customers that many brands fail to recognize.
After the death of Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton has had some of the hardest shoes ever to fill as a fashion designer (pardon the pun). For months after the death there was speculation about whether or not the brand would continue. In the end PPR Group that owns Alexander McQueen as well as Gucci, Bottega Venetta, Balenciaga and YSL decided to continue the brand and see where their investment would take them rather than close down. Only time and the cash registers will tell if the McQueen brand will resonate with the new fashion crazed Chinese twenty and thirty somethings and if worldwide continuing the brand was a good move. I for one hope it does succeed.