Sarah Burton’s magnificent and poignant final showcase for Alexander McQueen, highlighted by supermodel Naomi Campbell’s memorable closing appearance, deeply moved attendees and models alike. Renowned fashion critics praised it; Cathy Horyn described the collection as “a powerful display of womanhood”, while Rachel Tashjian of The Washington Post acclaimed it for standing out in a muted fashion season.
A Surprising Successor
Mere days after this emotional farewell, Alexander McQueen’s parent company, Kering, unveiled Burton’s successor: Seán McGirr. The Irish-born, London-based designer, previously responsible for ready-to-wear at JW Anderson, has a laudable CV with experiences at prestigious brands like Dries van Noten, Burberry, and Uniqlo. Before venturing into design, McGirr showcased his skills as a stylist in Tokyo and Paris. Although not a widely recognized name in the mainstream fashion world, Central Saint Martins, the institution where both Burton and McGirr trained, holds him in high regard.
François-Henri Pinault, CEO of Kering, passionately expressed his confidence in McGirr to steer Alexander McQueen with renewed creative vigor. Gianfilippo Testa, Alexander McQueen’s CEO, echoed these sentiments, praising McGirr’s “experience, personality, and creative energy.”
Industry Reactions: From Skepticism to Hope
- Mixed Opinions: The fashion world’s reception of McGirr’s appointment is best described as ambivalent. The decision to introduce a lesser-known figure as Burton’s successor, as opposed to a high-profile name, elicited both apprehension and optimism.
- Concerns of Diversity: Major concerns emerged regarding the apparent regression in diversity. Notably, the creative directors at Kering’s six prominent brands, including Gucci and Balenciaga, are all white men, leading to discussions on inclusivity and representation in fashion.
- Vocalized Frustration: Renowned fashion personalities expressed their discontent. For instance, Tim Fitzgerald criticized Kering’s decision, while Alexandra Hildreth questioned the ability of a designer from a primary menswear background to represent McQueen’s profound female-centric essence. 1 Granary’s infographic highlighting the lack of diversity among Kering’s creative directors went viral, accentuating the industry’s growing concerns.
The Larger Trend in Fashion: Embracing the Unexpected
The preference for relatively unknown designers over renowned figures for top-tier positions isn’t novel. Pinault himself championed this approach, previously appointing insiders like Sabato de Sarno for Gucci and Matthieu Blazy for Bottega Veneta. Such decisions emphasize the industry’s evolving appreciation for fresh perspectives over star power.
A New Era for Alexander McQueen?
McGirr’s appointment, while a notable move, isn’t just about one brand or one designer. It signifies a ripple in the vast ocean of the fashion industry. The expectations are high, with many stakeholders keenly watching how McGirr will meld his vision with the iconic legacy of McQueen. His past work, though centered largely on menswear, has showcased an intricate understanding of textiles, cuts, and narratives. How he morphs this with McQueen’s established ethos of empowerment, especially female empowerment, will be of significant interest.
A Changing Landscape: Alexander McQueen & Beyond
- Historical Precedence: Sarah Burton’s own succession story after the tragic demise of Lee Alexander McQueen in 2010 serves as a testament to the brand’s willingness to take risks and invest in internal talent.
- The Competition: Kering’s appointments stand in contrast to LVMH, its main rival. At LVMH, brands like Stella McCartney and Dior are led by women, marking a stark difference in leadership dynamics between the two fashion giants.
- Economic Implications: Kering’s strategies might also be influenced by business performance. Although specific sales figures remain undisclosed, insider sources suggest that Alexander McQueen, after experiencing substantial growth, witnessed a stagnation in recent times. This might have catalyzed Kering’s decision to inject fresh leadership to rejuvenate the brand.
With the baton passed from Burton to McGirr, Alexander McQueen stands at a crossroads. While McGirr’s potential is undoubted, the broader implications of his appointment, both for the brand and the fashion industry at large, remain to be seen. It is an era of reflection, transformation, and hope as the industry grapples with issues of representation, evolution, and artistic expression.