The Future of Alexander McQueen

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.

Left, Alexander McQueen Spring Summer 2001, right, Alexander McQueen Autumn Winter 2002.

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 I appreciated McQueen’s work because it was rebellious: the bumsters, the futuristic shapes, the strange historical references we very anti-establishment and refreshing.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.

Left, Alexander McQueen Autumn Winter 2003, right, Spring Summer 2004.

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.

Alexander McQueen's Plato's Atlantis Spring Summer 2010 collection.

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.

Alexander McQueen skull scarf

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.

Alexander McQueen for The Rug Company.

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.

Catwalk image from, rug images from Nancy Girl.

  • alex

    You’ve pretty much summed up what I feel about this. My friend bought me a McQueen scarf for X’mas and while I love it, I feel uncomfortable wearing it because EVERYONE out there are wearing it with UGGS and fake designer bags. I’d say the scarf is now like the next LV Neverfull, entry item that’s easily accessible for everyone and somehow, they’ll make people feel like they’re the most fashionable person, seriously?

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  • Maya Beus

    Although I see your point and in a lot ways agree, I dont think that this is a possibility. I think AMcQ brand is simply going through the natural cycles of fashion business today. It is a bit sad, as Lee was a specially talented artist (am pretty sure he was an artist) but this is the waz it goes once you reach certain status.


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  • Anonymous

    Perhaps you are right, but either way it is a bit sad.

  • Erin

    Okay, this post does sound a bit snobby but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t somewhat agree. The problem here really is that it is a business and if the accessories are what is selling, they are going to push that as much as they can. I just try to view this method as the best way to keep the line afloat. I read somewhere a while back that it was the lower lines such as McQ that was keeping Alexander McQueen afloat – I’m guessing the couture pieces aren’t pulling the necessary coinage. Whatever keeps someone helming this visionary brand, I can’t hate on.

  • Anonymous

    Erin, you have made a really good point here. I suppose I should say that
    when I originally wrote this post, I was “inspired” by the fact that all the
    teens and fashion students of the world cited McQueen as “their favourite
    designer”, it was less about the accessories, that came as an after thought.
    But you are right in saying that all luxury brands head that way eventually.
    I guess luxury today is made to be accessible to everyone, hence the
    accessories, but in the past, luxury was exclusive. I just feel that McQueen
    has lost its exclusivity and the “special-ness” of the brand (excuse the
    poor English, but that just seemed to be the right word.) And although I
    agree that it is great the brand is continuing, at the same time, wouldn’t
    it have been amazing if they had put it to sleep? Unlike all of the luxury
    brands that get revived over and over again, sometimes successfully,
    sometimes not (Halston comes to mind), imagine if Gucci Group had said “Quit
    while we are ahead” and let the Alexander McQueen brand die with its
    founder, while it was at the top. Any brand whose LAST show (a REAL last
    show) was Plato’s Atlantis, would be in the history books forever.

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