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McQueen label must live on, says industry

On the eve of London Fashion Week, the fashion industry issued an impassioned plea to the Gucci Group to back Alexander McQueen chief executive Jonathan Akeroyd and keep the genius British designer’s legacy and label alive.

Sources close to Akeroyd, who has been at the helm of the luxury label since 2004, told Drapers the chief executive was desperate to keep the McQueen label going in the designer’s memory. They added that he was “supremely confident” his management team had the skills to take one of British fashion’s most famous labels forward and make it thrive in spite of its creator Lee Alexander McQueen’s tragic death last week.

There has been much debate over the future of the label since the designer’s suicide, with commentators largely saying McQueen’s vision and skills cannot be replicated. Analysts too have forecast Gucci Group parent company PPR will shutter the label, which took 16 years to reach profitability - which it did for the first time in February 2008.

Gucci Group had yet to give any indication as to what it plans to do with the label as Drapers went to press. Its chief executive Robert Polet issued a statement following the designer’s death that simply said: “The legacy he leaves us is a rich one, and one that we will cherish and honour.”

However, fashion insiders told Drapers that the Gucci Group must back Akeroyd and his team for the good of the British fashion industry.

Akeroyd himself has vast experience of product and branding having previously worked as buying and merchandising director at Harrods, while sources also pointed out that the label’s head of design Sarah Burton has been with the business and worked closely with McQueen himself for 13 years.

Luxury sector sources said the brand remained under-potentialised and that the existing management team could work on developing both the Alexander McQueen mainline and the spin-off McQ diffusion brand, believing that at the time of his death the label was already on the cusp of crossing over into big-brand territory. Gucci Group is said to have invested more than £20m in the Alexander McQueen label since it bought a 51% stake in the business in 2000.

Moira Benigson, managing partner of retail recruitment firm MBS Group, said: “It is a fallacy in this day and age to think it is only one person who makes a label. Alexander McQueen has a very strong team and is a well-run business.”

Anne Pitcher, buying and merchandising director at Selfridges, said: “The demand for McQueen collections has been strong for some time now and his recent passing has only increased it. So it would make sense to keep the brand trading.”

Tamara Salman, designer and former creative director of Liberty of London, the brand owned by the London department store, said: “The brand is young, but in a few years McQueen had the same impact as the likes of Yves Saint Laurent and Coco Chanel. To that end, the brand has to live on to keep his memory alive.”

Other luxury sector experts said that while McQueen was indeed the “creative visionary”, his staff have been entrenched in the business for so long they already “think and breathe like the man himself”.

Gucci Group is expected to proceed with selling the autumn 10 collection, which McQueen is said to have left partly unfinished. Sources said the group could then look to the existing team to create a heritage collection celebrating the designer’s archives for spring 10. If the luxury goods group were to pursue this strategy it would buy it time to find a replacement for McQueen, be that an internal or external candidate.

However, Robert Bensoussan, former chief executive of luxury brands such as Jimmy Choo,

Gianfranco Ferré and Christian Lacroix, said that replacing McQueen would not be easy.

He said: “Labels eventually move from being about the designer to being an institution and some brands like Chanel, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent have managed to do that. There is a crossing point - but before that point you need the designer. Moschino is the only example to go against this.”

Italian fashion brand Moschino was founded by Franco Moschino in 1983. However, the designer passed away just 11 years later. Rossella Jardini, his former assistant, subsequently became its creative director.

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