Alexander McQueen Label to Live On: History Says It Could Be a Success

Today, Gucci Group head Robert Polet announced {AP via Google News} that Alexander McQueen, the brand, would continue after last week’s suicide of namesake designer Lee Alexander McQueen. Polet described McQueen the man as “irreplaceable,” a sentiment many would agree with.

The prospect of continuing a label after a visionary founder unexpectedly leaves the company however, is not unprecedented. Consider parallels to the cases of Christian Dior and more recently Gianni Versace.

Christian Dior, 10 years into his career as head designer for his label, suffered a fatal heart attack at 52. Yves Saint-Laurent, then only 21-years-old, presented his first collection for the house a year later in 1958. At that time, Dior’s label was such a significant part of the French fashion industry that shuttering it wasn’t seen as an option.

In recent days when comparisons between Dior and McQueen have been drawn, many are quick to point out that while McQueen is celebrated for his artistic vision and immense creativity, the line is only recently profitable. And not even profitable enough to split sales figures out from other labels in the Gucci Group portfolio at that. While McQueen may be suitably positioned to claim the “genius” term often ascribed to him and Dior, McQueen’s label at this point is not a financially crucial part of parent company PPR.

But a more recent case offers more hope. When Gianni Versace was murdered in Miami in 1997, he was 19 years into his namesake label, but had seen a large part of his success with celebrities and significant media attention in the 10 years before his death.

The company’s recent history hasn’t been entirely smooth: job cuts and a lower priced line have been announced {Bloomberg} as the company struggles to return to profitability among economic conditions that have seen labels like Escada pushed to the brink of collapse. While the next few years will require smart business decisions, Versace as a label has managed to thrive for more than a decade after the unexpected death of Gianni. Reviews of Donatella Versace’s first collections were mixed, but she has grown into a respected creative force, and helped to maintain hundreds of millions of dollars of sales annually.

While the news may seem sudden for some, considering how recent McQueen’s death is, the question now is who will be McQueen’s Saint-Laurent.

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