Fashion Week will be without one of its most exuberant, brightest stars, Alexander McQueen. McQueen took his life last Thursday and left his fashion empire without a leader. From the man that injected robotics and aero-space design into his unique brand of fashion, how will the McQueen brand survive without its visionary? Just as the Valentino brand struggled to live beyond its founder, the McQueen brand faces similar challenges.
Iconic visionaries such as Gucci, Ralph Lauren, Jimmy Choo and even Martha Stewart have taken similar paths to building an empire that exerts industry influence and takes on meaning beyond the founder:
1) explode on the scene with revolutionary ideas
2) build ties with influential industry circles
3) stabilize the brand by making your products accessible to a broad audience
Alexander McQueen earned his stripes by developing audacious, irreverent designs that were more theatrical and dramatic than functional. Just as Valentino’s white collection in the 1960s, McQueen shocked the fashion world with 10,000 volts of creativity. Visions of enormous aero-dynamic wings, garbage bag hats were among his many eccentric designs.
His flare for the strange and twisted won the favor of the influential stylist, Isabella Blow. Blow welcomed McQueen into the upper echelons of elite, high fashion world. It was there that he could realize his vision of marrying theatrics and drama with fashion. McQueen’s shows were tent-pole events in the fashion world. In the video below, McQueen uses robotic paint guns to color a white dress.
Alexander McQueen was a successful trailblazer in fashion, who earned the respect of industry insiders. However, unlike other fashion icons, McQueen never extended beyond the inner circle. In contrast, Jimmy Choo partnered with H&M, Gucci developed a national retail chain with mainstream fashion and accessible prices and Martha Stewart partnered with K-Mart and Macys.
With his passing, McQueen leaves a legacy of talent, and a high priced fashion portfolio that is far outside mainstream budgets. His designs are far too eccentric for mainstream America, and the price point of even his shoes ($400-800) is untouchable for most. Without McQueen, the label will likely mean less to the inner circle. And since the brand means little to the masses, the brand will be challenged to survive. Ideally, McQueen would have taken more care to extend the line beyond his own talents. It might be too late for more affordable prices, toned-down designs, and national retail partnerships. The true talents and legacy of McQueen will likely fall short of their immense promise.