Emmanuel Gintzburger: the man tasked with transforming Alexander McQueen into a global fashion powerhouse
In an exclusive interview with The National, Emmanuel Gintzburger explains how he plans to transform the retail experience
Quiet but brilliant, Alexander McQueen is a brand built in the image of its current creative director. Sarah Burton took artistic control of the company in May 2010, having worked alongside its famed founder, Lee McQueen, for more than 14 years before his untimely death.
Notoriously media-shy, Burton made a conscious decision to be as private as possible, choosing to let her collections speak for themselves. But this year, a new Alexander McQueen flagship on London’s Bond Street, which has a design concept that, for the first time, was envisaged by Burton herself, is giving the world new insight into the designer’s vision.
The boutique is quintessentially McQueen. A vast curtain covered in colourful glittering insects sweeps dramatically across the double-storey storefront. This is a reference to Burton’s celebrated “bug dress” and a nod to the natural world, a lynchpin of the McQueen aesthetic since the brand was launched. Inside, there is an interplay of light and dark woods, heavy, handwoven tapestries, enormous blocks of quartz, and sculptures that weave their way through the space like spindly roots left to grow unchecked.
“The new concept expresses what the house stands for – it is the physical link between our creative vision and the outside world,” explains Emmanuel Gintzburger, Alexander McQueen’s chief executive. “It translates the powerful storytelling of our collections into a unique journey through a space. For example, the silhouettes are on full display on mannequins rather than racks, bringing design to life. The changing rooms are in the centre, putting the most intimate experience right at the heart of the store; it creates an emotional connection with the space.
“This is the future of our retail experience, transforming stores from pure transactional and exclusive spaces into inspirational and inclusive ones, where people are encouraged, and want, to discover, learn, share and feel.”
Gintzburger joined Alexander McQueen from Saint Laurent in 2016, and has been tasked with transforming this discreet Kering-owned brand into a global fashion powerhouse. The new store concept has already been rolled out in The Dubai Mall (“Dubai is a vibrant and deeply sophisticated fashion capital with an appetite for true creativity,” Gintzburger says), and will make its way to Shanghai, Monaco, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, Miami, Milan and then Paris.
It is a first sign of the brand’s aspirations – an announcement of things to come. “Our ambition is to establish Alexander McQueen as one of the world’s leading luxury fashion houses,” Gintzburger proclaims. “We are currently completing a cycle of comprehensive brand alignment focused around a single and cohesive creative vision.”
The aim is to grow organically, while staying true to Burton’s unwavering approach, which, more akin to haute couture, focuses on handwork, exceptional tailoring, and a constant, breathtaking tension between fragility and strength, femininity and masculinity – the delicate princess versus the warrior queen.
“Great design to me is authenticity of creativity and emotions,” Gintzburger says. “When I first met Sarah, it was a truly inspiring moment for me, because her vision for the house was so clear, honest and unique. For me, building a strategy to support her vision and translate her values into a company culture was a very natural evolution.”
Preserving the brand’s Britishness will also be key. Burton has long drawn on the country’s folklore, rural traditions and craft heritage for her creations, and is known to take her team off on field trips – to Cornwall, the Shetland Islands or the West Country – to explore the distinct mythology of each place.
Before her autumn / winter 2019 collection, which was presented in Paris this week, Burton headed to a place steeped in nostalgia. As she explained in her show notes: “I went home for this collection, back to where I grew up in the north of England, surrounded by mill towns and wild countryside. I took my team to those mills, to a landscape that I remember from my childhood. The heart of the collection is inspired by the bolts of cloth we saw woven both by man and machine.”
The show’s opening look consisted of a sharply tailored suit with a strong shoulder and defined waist, offset by fluid asymmetric drapes and a selvedge that proudly proclaimed “Made in England”. Androgynous models with multiple ear piercings toed a thin line between the classic and the rebellious. A silk duchess satin gown with a long skirt and fitted bodice called to mind a heroine from a Bronte novel, while the suffragettes were referenced in a white cotton poplin dress. Prince of Wales checks, worsted flannels and Victorian bustles were followed by a black jacket with sleeves that swirled into elaborate fuchsia roses, and dresses crafted from fabric that melded into voluminous floral forms – a reference to the historic White Rose of York and Red Rose of Lancaster.
“Alexander McQueen is a British luxury fashion house. Its inspirations are drawn from Britain’s history and from nature. It captures the essence of British culture and tradition, while challenging these values and subverting conventions,” explains Gintzburger. “This is how it can appeal to a very broad audience.”
The aim now, nearly a decade after Burton took over, is to align the brand’s business ambitions with its far-reaching creative prowess. This means reinforcing an already strong team with new talent, restructuring supply chains, rethinking the retail offering and questioning how the company communicates with the world. “People have always been passionate about the house and its creative freedom. Our expansion and increased visibility across markets and communication platforms will give access to more people who may not know us today, but will. The aim is to be ourselves on a larger scale,” Gintzburger says.
“Alexander McQueen is about complete creative freedom, integrity and authentic storytelling, all anchored in Britishness,” he adds. “The eternal juxtapositions between strength and vulnerability, romance and rebellion, the touch of the hand and innovation, individualism and a sense of community, hyper-femininity and masculinity, are all upheld. By remaining true to who we are, our distinctive voice will be relevant in a crowded marketplace.”
Updated: March 8, 2019 09:38 AM