x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Events can catapult a brand into iconic status

Just over a year after the tragic death of Alexander McQueen, the house that bears his name shows no sign of slowing down.

Days before news broke that John Galliano had been fired from his own label – 91 per cent of which is owned by his former employer, Christian Dior, or rather LVMH – I found myself at the headquarters of another luxury brand whose designer had also exited unexpectedly.

It's a little over a year since the late Alexander McQueen, the controversial British designer, took his own life, and Alexander McQueen, "the brand", which is majority-owned by the rival luxury conglomerate Gucci group, a subsidiary of the French multinational holding company PPR, seems to be doing rather well.

Sarah Burton, who took up the reins just months after the death of the founder, has been praised for bringing a "woman's touch" to subsequent collections, that captures the edginess of her risk-taking predecessor while eliminating the scary element that had previously made the label's backers, along with customers, nervous. Now she's not only one of the designers tipped to be perhaps creating the wedding dress for Kate Middleton - an event that will be watched worldwide by billions, but a commission she has denied - she's also overseeing the McQ diffusion line (Pina Ferlisi designs it), a real money-spinner for the brand since 2006.

I had come to the nerve centre of the McQueen empire, a three-storey warehouse in Clerkenwell Road in east London (the design studio is located around the corner in Goswell Street) to preview McQ, which this season stretches to funky boots, "knuckle duster" gloves, jewellery, hats and shoes.

Walking into the foyer, I'm not quite sure what I had expected to see. A portrait of the founder hanging on the wall perhaps? Images from his legendary catwalk shows, many of which I've been lucky enough to have witnessed? Certainly not a stuffed polar bear.

Silly me to expect there might actually be some reference to the deceased designer who started it all.

I can see why the brand is particularly proud of its McQ range. It's very much a "best of" collection, which is incredibly sellable (and despite all the hype from fashion shows this wasn't always the case with Alexander McQueen's trailblazing clothes, many of which were way ahead of their time).

It features many house signatures from tartan mini kilts, black cropped low-slung trousers, caped jackets with military buttons and boiled gnarly knits to impeccably tailored white shirts or T-shirts with skull prints. All have been reworked in an way that will attract a younger, more fashion-savvy audience.

They will love the red of the feisty tartan, the cut of the trousers, holey T-shirts bristling with attitude and, of course, an affordable price tag.

Chanel, Lanvin, Moschino and Burberry have all proved that, once established, a brand can be immortal. This month Christophe Decarnin was ousted from Balmain by the chief executive Alain Hivelin, and no one is really sure why. Perhaps the question should be: in a few weeks will anyone care?

Meanwhile, Chloé's chief executive officer Geoffroy de la Bourdonnaye has told the American fashion industry newspaper Women's Wear Daily that "Hannah (MacGibbon) is still with us, that's all I can say". Not exactly what you might call a gushing endorsement.

We can do nothing besides accept this ruthless "conveyor belt" approach to designers at fashion houses simply because it has become the norm.

I recently attempted to explain to a class of fashion students that businessmen behind large luxury companies treated designers rather like pawns in a game of chess, but the students weren't bothered about who, with the exception of Karl Lagerfeld, was where on Planet Fashion's Chessboard.

If Burton were to be the chosen one in terms of dressing Kate Middleton for her Big Day, it wouldn't just prove a huge coup for PPR (and Burton of course): it would serve as a great advertisement for another PR-tastic event set to take the brand into iconic status.

Days after the royal wedding it will be the New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute's annual gala - a major event in the fashion global calendar - to mark the "Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty" retrospective (opening on May 4).

Anna Wintour, the editor in chief of American Vogue, the most important woman in the fashion stratosphere, is the co-chair, along with Stella McCartney and bizarrely, the British actor and Oscar-winner, Colin Firth.

What if the eagerly anticipated event (which still has an air of gloom hanging over it because of the tragic death of the designer), had a happily-ever-after ending in the form of a fairy tale wedding dress? It's a thought.