Emmanuel Gintzburger in Alexander McQueen’s ‘record year’

There are several fashion labels that are outliving their founders. There are even fewer that continue to grow, to become globally recognized brands, raking in hundreds of millions of euros in sales annually. That this happened to Alexander McQueen after designer Lee McQueen’s suicide in 2010 is remarkable. It was a business that then took its roots in a single founder and, at the time, was barely making a profit.

Much of its survival is thanks to the vision and dedication of McQueen’s loyal deputy of 14 years, Sarah Burton, who has honed the home’s reputation for tailoring and keen romance while introducing clothes that are softer, more feminine and easier to wear. Its continuation is also owed to former McQueen chief executive Jonathan Akeroyd, who supported Burton for suggestions to hunt down more famous designers from other homes and also lay the groundwork for McQueen’s global expansion, and to the founder and chairman of Kering François-Henri Pinault, who recognized the strength of the McQueen brand. and rejecting suggestions from people in the group who think it’s best to bury the label with its founder.

If the team sets the stage for McQueen’s evolution, it’s 47-year-old Emmanuel Gintzburger who has been tasked with executing and enlarging it. Gintzburger, the chatty former Saint Laurent retail executive who cut his teeth at Louis Vuitton and Sephora, took over the reins at McQueen in 2016 following Akeroyd’s disbandment to Versace. For five years he has guided McQueen’s global expansion with steady hands, doubling the number of stores to 100 between 2017 and the end of 2020, and expanding the label offering for footwear, menswear and leather accessories.

View from the Alexander McQueen SS21 collection

Alexander McQueen SS20

“The ambition is enormous to transform McQueen from one of the creative designer brands into one of the most powerful mansions in the world,” Gintzburger said by Zoom phone in late March from McQueen’s headquarters in Clerkenwell in London, where the French national has overcome most of it. pandemic.

“Four to five years ago, this brand focused heavily on designer brand models, very focused on ready-to-wear clothing, very [driven by] a small number of very strong international clients who sell primarily through US and European wholesale channels, ”he explained. (In 2014, ready-to-wear clothing accounted for more than half of sales, and leather goods only a fifth; now the distribution is “much healthier across categories,” says Gintzburger.) “Our goal is to improve, work across channels, categories. , and age groups … starting at retail. “

Alexander McQueen SS20

Dry, who also owns Gucci, Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta, did not split the revenue for McQueen. But the brand has grown at a compound annual growth rate of around 15 percent over the past six years, with revenues doubling from more than € 250 million in 2014 to more than € 500 million last year, Citigroup analyst Thomas Chauvet estimates. In this week’s first-quarter earnings report, Kering said McQueen and Balenciaga’s performance was “excellent”, with growth “very strong in their retail networks in North America as well as in Asia-Pacific”.

Gintzburger said McQueen had a “record” year for 2020, increasing sales and market share despite the many challenges imposed by the pandemic. That’s thanks to aggressive retail expansion now in its fifth year – McQueen opened 22 locations last year, including Miami and Tokyo. “We are primarily focused on flagships in China, the US, Korea, the Middle East and Japan – very strong locations with local clients, [rather than] destinations rely on tourism, “he explained.

McQueen’s income: adjusted for growth

Under € 100 million

2010 estimate

€ 500 million- € 600 million

Estimates for 2020

The focus on local customers, which started three years ago, is doing well in 2020, when few people will be able to vacation abroad. (Many luxury shops, especially those in European capitals and in Southeast Asia that mostly cater to visitors from China and the Middle East, had to suddenly shift their focus to regional customers last year.)

It also helps that McQueen has taken greater control over e-commerce operations (previously facilitated by Yoox Net-a-Porter) and continues to limit its wholesale channels, “with a focus on key partners” through its extensive network, said Gintzburger. The company is also moving from a wholesale model to a concession model with etailers including Net-a-Porter, MatchesFashion and Luisaviaroma, which provide brand control over inventory and pricing.

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, wore a dress designed by Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen for her 2011 wedding to Prince William © EPA

Expanding product diversity and price range is essential for customer recruitment, especially among younger clients who don’t want to commit to one waisted trouser suit (from £ 2,000) or a beautifully crafted gown (most famously worn by Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, for her 2011 marriage to Prince William). In lieu of a head-to-toe look, younger customers might opt ​​for a gold skull ring with fake crystals and pearls (£ 220), a black leather belt (£ 650), or one of the brand’s ubiquitous white sneakers. -where with their signature exaggerated sole (£ 390). The handbag offer has also grown, although the brand has not yet caught up with its trainers.

After coming out of the pandemic, Gintzburger thinks we will see greater diversity in the way people dress. So when it comes to a variety of products, “the broader you are, the better positioned you are”.

The brand continues to expand its handbag offerings, including the Curve Bag for SS21 © Erwan Frotin

The pandemic also provided McQueen with the opportunity to overhaul shipping and price reduction schedules. The collection now sells at full price for more than six months after arriving at the store, not just three to four.

Like fellow brands Kering Gucci and Bottega Veneta, McQueen has not taken part in digital fashion week for the past year, but has launched a collection on his own schedule. When the show resumes, will McQueen return to Paris Fashion Week? Gintzburger refused, saying that in the current environment, “it is impossible to plan for the next six months”.

“What we do know is that moving the collection presentation closer to the time of in-store delivery is beneficial to us,” he said.

Gintzburger’s crystal ball may be cloudy when it comes to fashion week, but he is confident in predicting one long-term development: a shift from the “linear” fashion model, in which products are made from limited resources and ultimately discarded, to the “circular model, where materials and products are designed to be continually reused and remade into new products. “The linear model is limited,” he said.

He says that Burton and his team are focused on designing products from good materials that don’t season easily and are made to last, and reusing fabrics whenever possible. The company has also supported the used goods market, partnering with resale platform Vestiaire Collective (in which parent company Kering recently took a 5 percent stake) to help collect obsolete items from customers that can be resold on site in exchange for stores. credit.

Alexander McQueen shows are famous for their plays. At her SS99 show at London Fashion Week, robots spray paint on Shalom Harlow’s model dress © Getty Images

Will McQueen consider reselling used clothing and leather goods through his own retail channel? “Everything is possible.”

Recently, Hermès revealed that they are working on a bag made from an alternative leather material derived from a fungus, seen as a response to growing concerns about animal welfare and the environmental impacts of raising livestock and tanning leather. Gintzburger said McQueen is also testing animal skin alternatives, although there are no plans yet to bring any product to market.

Boss Kering Pinault has made no secret of his ambition to see McQueen surpass € 1 billion in annual revenue. Gintzburger said the brand’s ability to increase market share during the pandemic had given the company confidence in its strategy; now, with the global vaccination rollout under way, he’s focused on accelerating it. Main targets include customers in China, the US, Korea and Japan.

But it’s very important not to grow too fast. The challenge for brands like McQueen is to maintain their creative, emotional and artistic qualities as they develop. “How do you measure your brand without losing the essence of what the brand represents?” he asked rhetorically. “When you are on a smaller scale it is possible. But when you start growing. . . it’s not a gift. “

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