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The Brand Council case studies: Alexander McQueen

Originally published in 'Cool BrandLeaders', August 2002. The book reviews the UK's strongest cool brands as judged by the independent Brand Council Judges.

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Case study provided by The Brand Council.

Calm and collected Alexander McQueen is a superb craftsman who produces clothes that are at once dramatic yet commercial. Rather than relying on straightforward marketing techniques, his status is certified by the support given from his A-list clientele.

The breadth of the McQueen appeal was illustrated by the theatrical Paris catwalk showing March 2002 which was hailed as "the most beautiful show of the season" by Italian Vogue. As well as creating influential clothes that directly inspire high street trends, McQueen has recently moved into designing eyewear. More store openings and a perfume launch are to follow, and it is clear that Alexander McQueen is on the cusp of becoming a global brand to be reckoned with.

McQueen was born in the East End of London in 1969, the son of a taxi driver and the youngest of six children and his rebellious genius became apparent when he spent most of his time at his all-boys school designing dresses for women. At 16 he began carving out a stellar career in the unlikely world of fashion and walked straight into Anderson & Shepherd on Saville Row, determined to learn bespoke tailoring the traditional way. He moved on to Gieves & Hawks and the theatrical costumier Angels & Bermans, ultimately mastering six different styles of pattern cutting -- from 16th century melodrama to sharp modern tailoring. Today, his clothes can embrace both extremes and he has been described as a better cutter than Yves St Laurent.

By October 1996, McQueen had become chief designer at the French couture house Givenchy. With collections soon propelling him into the top slot, and his growing list of fans from the worlds of rock and cinema, he soon became a star in his own right. McQueen was named British Designer of the Year in 1996 and 1997, and again in 2001.

Since McQueen left Givenchy because, he argued, it was sapping his creativity, he has gone from strength-to-strength, creating wildly theatrical shows that have helped to re-establish London's status as a fashion capital. His clothes, blend drama and controversy with down-to-earth street style. While a recent show in Paris featured a woman dressed as a purple version of Little Red Riding Hood -- complete with two wolves -- most of the clothes were wearable as well as creative. And, of course, impeccably cut. Influential items included tweed, satin and leather skirt-suits, jackets with hoods and billowing sleeves, trousers with curved hems, and knitted tank-tops.

In previous collections, McQueen has enjoyed mixing the sinister with the romantic, and military and fairytale touches often appear side-by-side in his work, which he describes as being "for the strong woman". McQueen is launching a bespoke menswear range for Autumn/Winter 2002 in collaboration with H Huntsman and Sons, the classic British Savile Row tailor. The eyewear collection is another new departure, and McQueen has also promised to launch a perfume in 2003.

There are currently two Alexander McQueen stores located in New York and Tokyo. Further stores in London, Milan and LA will be opened in 2003. This will no doubt ensure that he joins the list of designers who have ceased being mere names, and turned into bywords for style.

© 2002 The Brand Council

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