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BEIJING — Western fashion brands typically cross the borders into mainland China after first dipping their toes in the Hong Kong market, but Alexander McQueen has taken a more direct route, opening its first store in the region here with a lavish fashion show.

This story first appeared in the November 1, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The brand’s creative director Sarah Burton, chief executive Jonathan Akeroyd and others from the McQueen team flew in to Beijing for the occasion, meeting with VIPs and media at a cocktail party at the store on Friday. The following evening, more than 300 guests attended a runway show of the fall-winter collection at Beijing’s 798 art district, a group of former factories turned into dramatic galleries.

The atmosphere at Saturday’s show was electric. The glamorous audience, replete with the who’s who of Chinese fashion and just a handful of foreign faces, was transfixed. Cameras snapped, and cell phones held high recorded the barely five-minute-long extravaganza. Many of China’s top models — including Ji Lili, Danni Li, Bonnie Chen and Zhang Xuchao — walked the luminous catwalk in the bold garments and vertiginous platforms. At the close, dressed in a simple black dress that contrasted with her just-seen dramatic creations, Burton stepped out for a fleeting wave.

“I’m so excited to be here. You can feel the energy, it’s everywhere,” she told WWD backstage following the show.

In her brief visit to Beijing, Burton had the chance to meet with many of China’s fashion lovers, and she was awed by their individuality and passion for what’s happening globally. “I’m so impressed with their sense of style — they’re real risk-takers.”

McQueen’s entry into China at this time may seem a little belated. Many fashion houses are already firmly entrenched here — Dior, Louis Vuitton, Celine and Gucci are all but household names. The McQueen team, however, believes that the timing couldn’t have been more opportune and says it was the result of several converging factors.

“Firstly, we wanted to make an impact,” said Akeroyd. “We waited for the right location in Shanghai and now we’ve also got it here [in Beijing]. It wasn’t a big strategy. It’s a special store in the right place. It’s better to wait than to rush in when choosing a location.”

The new store is situated in the luxurious Sanlitun North complex, a chic new Swire Properties development that houses such names as Balenciaga, Lanvin, Versace and a recently opened Maison Martin Margiela store.

Spanning two floors and designed to mirror the style of the other McQueen flagships, the more than 4,305-square-foot space offers men’s and women’s wear as well as accessories. The narrow street it faces is clogged every night with the traffic of shoppers and partygoers. The store, which opened to the public Saturday, was opened in collaboration with partner Lane Crawford Joyce Group.

“We like the environment and the mix of brands here in this development,” said Akeroyd. “It’s not the obvious luxury names; it’s an eclectic mix. It was a good launchpad for us.”

Akeroyd also said he believes that the timing was right for both China and McQueen.

“As a brand, we’re also ready now to expand. We have six stores globally, and we’re at a point to launch more. We had no real presence here, and now that we are opening more retail doors, it’s a good place to start in China. Next year we open in Shanghai, Hong Kong late next year and, of course, other stores around the world,” he said.

Despite the lack of storefronts, McQueen is not unknown in China, and Akeroyd has been surprised by the level of local understanding of the brand and its history. Long before Catherine Middleton walked the aisle and Chinese seamstresses raced to make copies of Burton’s design, McQueen was well respected here, he said.

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