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McQueen Puts Best Foot Forward

Alexander McQueen put his heart, his soul -- and his own left foot -- into his new collection of footwear for Puma.

LONDON — Alexander McQueen put his heart, his soul — and his own left foot —into his new collection of footwear for Puma. On Monday, the designer, a self-confessed sneaker junkie, revealed the details of his collection, right down to the veins, bones and tendons.

“I was inspired by the look of the foot, the muscles and skeletal structure,” said McQueen during a breakfast press conference at Puma’s headquarters here.

“Of course, because it’s designed by me, there’s also a sick and macabre twist to the designs,” he added, with a laugh.

McQueen, who owns 450 pairs of sneakers, said the deal with Puma was not only a natural move, but also a means of building his brand on a more commercial level. The Alexander McQueen Puma line will launch in 200 to 250 stores worldwide in January, including McQueen’s flagships in London, New York and Milan.

Prices for the line, which features 15 models, range from 180 euros, or $218 at current exchange, to 240 euros, or $290. The deal is not a license, but rather a long-term partnership.

McQueen said he loves speaking to a whole new audience, and the project has helped him grow as a designer.

“It’s taught me that my creativity can stay at any level. It’s made me a better designer, because I’m covering a whole other part of the market,” said McQueen, who was dressed in a crisp white dress shirt, jeans and a pair of one of his new My Left Foot Bound sneakers for Puma.

The model features an imprint of McQueen’s left foot inside the sole. The designer cast his own foot in a vacuum mold, and the impression has been suspended in a transparent rubber sole that’s visible when the sneaker’s turned over.

“Making it nearly killed me. It tore the hairs out of my legs,” he admitted with a laugh. The laces of the shoe are woven through leather along the length of the shoe, in a direct reference to McQueen’s dress designs.

Other marquee models in the collection include the NY Running Shoe Laser, an elegant model for women featuring delicate, laser-cut latticework on the last. The latticework — and the fine mesh underlay — is meant to mirror the maze of human veins.

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The extended toe shape is a McQueen signature and carries over from his shoe collection. “It’s inspired by the UFO show, and I wanted it to be modern and elegant, not clumpy. I wanted to do couture cutting for the foot,” he said.

The men’s Anatomical Low shoes have molded rubber “tendons” that stretch from heel to toe on the sole. There are also vein and skeletal details on the last.

But while McQueen may have liberally dipped into his past runway collections for inspiration, he has no plans to put the new shoes on the catwalk. “My fashion and the Puma footwear are fundamentally two different projects,” he said.

The line slots into the sport fashion division at Puma, which has collaborated with Jil Sander in the past and currently produces lines with Christy Turlington, Neil Barrett, Mihara Yasuhiro, Philippe Starck and Alexander von Stubbe. Puma opened its first store for its collaborative lines in February in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District.

Jochen Zeitz, Puma’s chairman and chief executive officer, said he always had wanted to work with McQueen. He said the designer’s collection for Puma has created a whole new dimension for the sport fashion division.

Zeitz declined to give any sales projections for the line, but said there was “tremendous opportunity” for Puma to grow its sports fashion business. He added the Puma brand would reach sales of 3.5 billion euros, or $4.24 billion, over the next five years.

Asked if there was any risk of the designer lines cannibalizing one another, Zeitz said: “I think the products are so different that that won’t happen. Yes, they compete and have similar distribution, but each one is truly unique. Basically, we ask each designer to take the Puma DNA and infuse it with their personal style.”

Jonathan Akeroyd, ceo of Alexander McQueen, said the company would initially target top-tier, image-driven wholesale accounts. The line will eventually be distributed more widely. “Lee [McQueen] is keen that this be a commercial product — and a volume line,” he said after the conference.

McQueen worked with photographer Nick Knight on the image for the new collection, which is known as ManCat, an eerie photo of a black creature that’s half man, half beast. The ManCat tooth, a pointed, cat-like fang with a human root, is the logo for the new brand.

McQueen said he’s looking forward to the long-term collaboration with Puma, but plans to take the whole project slowly. “I want to knuckle down and focus on this, rather than flood the market with other product categories,” he said on the sidelines of the conference.

“This has really been an interesting project so far, because there are so many components to it. I’m really looking forward to where we go from here. There are so many new materials, new techniques out there,” said McQueen, adding that he was initially attracted to Puma for the work it did with Sander and von Stubbe.

McQueen’s new line comes in the wake of the successful Adidas Stella McCartney apparel and footwear collection. McQueen and McCartney are both owned by Gucci Group, which wants the brands to be profitable by 2007 and has given them the freedom to strike deals of their own.

McQueen said he didn’t feel pressured by the 2007 deadline, and said he was pleased with the results of the business so far. “We just made $150,000 in three days in New York, there’s a two-month waiting list for the Novak bag and men’s wear is doing well,” he said.

“Right now, it’s about maintaining momentum and giving our clients what they want. We have a strong customer base and amazing customer loyalty,” McQueen added.

Akeroyd said in the year to date, McQueen has registered double-digit sales growth both at retail and wholesale. “It’s been a great year,” he said.