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LONDON — Alexander McQueen views his Old Bond Street store as more than just a place to make a sale. It’s a space where he can park his last-minute, one-off designs, where he can see what his customers are — or aren’t — buying and where he can treat his biggest spenders to some special attention.
“It’s not just about selling. It’s about my originality,” said McQueen over a cup of Earl Grey tea at a sidewalk café near his Clerkenwell studio. “If I want to put a new dress in the shop window — something I design in bed one night while I watch ‘The Sopranos’ — I can. I see the store as a couture outlet, as well.”
Fresh from his daily visit to the gym and dressed in a zip-front sweatshirt and baggy blue jeans hanging off his lithe frame, McQueen said he’s happy to once again have a store in his native city. And the designer, always as savvy about the business side as he is about designing, can barely disguise his excitement at being a shopkeeper. “I plan to visit the store regularly to check on sizing, fit and sales. That information will be really important to me when I design future collections.”
McQueen said he also plans to visit certain clients at the store. “I want to have more contact with my clients. If someone is spending $55,000 or $60,000 on a dress, the least I can do is go to the fitting,” he said.
The 3,900-square-foot store, which opened two weeks ago, is located at 4-5 Old Bond Street, next door to Dolce & Gabbana and across the street from the new De Beers LV unit. Housed in a former office space, it’s the third flagship to open under McQueen’s new majority owner Gucci Group after Tokyo and New York. McQueen will open his next unit in Milan in July, and there are plans in the works for stores in Los Angeles and Paris.
The new store is yet another step in the building of a McQueen empire after the designer sold 49 percent of his company to Gucci in December 2000. The Old Bond Street store actually is McQueen’s second time around with a London unit — his first opened in nearby Conduit Street in fall 1999. Gibo, McQueen’s manufacturing partner at the time, owned that store, which closed after the designer linked up with Gucci.
In line with other Gucci subsidiaries, the company declined to give a forecast for the new store’s first-year sales. However, real estate sources estimate that rents in the area are about $624 per square foot annually. That would indicate that sales at the store need to range from $2 million to $3 million annually to be profitable.
Designed by McQueen’s old friend, the architect William Russell, the Old Bond Street store resembles the other units. It boasts curved walls, intersecting vaulted ceilings and gray terrazzo floors flecked with bits of Tahitian oyster shells. The staircase leading to the lower level mirrors the inside of a fossilized shell with its curved and rounded steps.
“It’s more condensed than the New York store — there’s more a sense of curvature and it flows from top to bottom,” said McQueen. “I wanted it to be like a cathedral or a chapel. I didn’t want it to be angular or aggressive or fight against the clothes.” The store showcases McQueen’s women’s rtw, accessories and new fragrance Kingdom, which went on sale early last month. It also offers a bespoke men’s wear service in conjunction with Huntsman Savile Row.
McQueen, who recently returned from a quick post-runway show trip to Marrakech, also has been at work on a line of sunglasses to be produced by Safilo and go on sale later this year. “It’s more about the material than the design. I want them to have a one-off, one-of-a-kind appeal.”
But any discussion with McQueen can’t avoid the topic of his future at Gucci Group, in light of reports in WWD that creative director Tom Ford and chief executive Domenico De Sole may decide not to renew their contracts next year if parent Pinault-Printemps-Redoute does not guarantee their operating independence. However, both executives insist they want to stay at Gucci.
“De Sole has assured me that he’s not thinking of leaving, but destiny is destiny and if they want to leave that’s fine. It would be a bit of a slap in the face to me, considering that I just went into partnership with Gucci, but in life you’re dealt your cards. I’m not going to get stressed about it,” McQueen said, adding, “I think Gucci Group has the freshest outlook of any fashion group at the moment. They have a winning formula, and Tom and Domenico are trustworthy guys. They’re not out to do anyone over.”