I fear for the Alexander McQueen brand. Although I am quite confident that Sarah Burton has the skills to act as creative director for the brand, my concerns are for the brand image.
I used to hate Alexander McQueen, and the hatred started because of his nasty words against Givenchy. I had a general distaste for the British invasion of the Parisian fashion brands (John Galliano was another one of those people.) But in the mid-noughties I began to gain an appreciation for both of them. I appreciated McQueen’s work because it was rebellious: the bumsters, the futuristic shapes, the strange historical references we very anti-establishment and refreshing. His collections were often uncomfortable but always interesting.
But things suddenly changed when the skull scarf came out. Suddenly there was something from McQueen that was spotted on every single celebrity and knock offs became more commonplace than the real thing. (The fact that a McQueen item was being worn on celebrities was uncomfortable as it is. He was very anti-celebrity, and generally did not invite them to his shows. The only exception I know of is Lady Gaga.) Then came the Spring Summer 2011 Plato’s Atlantis show and suddenly the brand was catapulted into the limelight. The armadillo shoe was famous. Lady Gaga’s association with the brand was famous. And Alexander McQueen was famous, not in the way he had been before, but suddenly a design superstar.
So what’s happened since then? Well, Lee Alexander McQueen committed suicide. And the brand’s image began to change. I went to a student fashion show a few months ago, and the students were introduced by their name, inspiration for their collection, and their favourite designer. Over half of them said Alexander McQueen, but I am willing to bet that hardly any of them knew a collection prior to the Plato’s Atlantis, and not a single one of them had designs that appeared to have any way been inspired by McQueen.
The brand strategy seems to be moving towards the formula of accessories, accessories, accessories. Which is no surprise since it is owned by a huge conglomerate, but Alexander McQueen was not about skull rings and skull scarves and skull clutch bags, although now the brand seems to be headed in that direction. (Don’t get me wrong here, I love the skull rings and the biker jacket bags and shoes…) The icing on the cake for me was this post by Nancy Girl, which featured a new collection of Alexander McQueen rugs in collaboration with The Rug Company. This was sad.
Now that the brand is well-known worldwide, by nearly every fashion teen, fashion wannabee, and fashion victim, it is losing its appeal. The brand is no longer about avant-garde creations, it is about the commercial fashion machine, churning out whatever they can to bring in $$$$. Perhaps I sounds a bit snobby, I guess I am a snob about these things. But let the teens have their teenage brands, and leave us our designers. We’ve lost Alber Elbaz to the H&M machine, we’ve lost Halston to Sarah Jessica Parker, and now we are losing Alexander McQueen.
Last week Alexander McQueen was given the Outstanding Achievement in Fashion award at the British Fashion Awards. Do I think he deserves it? Yes and no. Of course he deserves awards, he was a fantastic designer. But I also feel that because his career ended tragically, the British are scrambling to find ways to “honour” him. Instead, let’s honour him by refusing to bastardize his brand. And to all my fashion students “inspired” by Alexander McQueen, don’t disgrace his name unless you truly are inspired by him, which means you’ve looked beyond his last three collections. And to the rest of the world, if you think owning a skull scarf means you own a part of Alexander McQueen, I am afraid you are mistaken.