London – Beauty existing on the brink of depravity has been writ into Alexander McQueen’s brand since the beginning – the late English fashion designer’s 1992 graduate collection for Central Saint Martins was titled Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims. Visiting the latest McQueen flagship on Old Bond Street in London, though, you’d never be able to guess that.
McQueen’s life and ascension into the fashion elite was marked by remarkably high highs and the lower lows – emotion that, even post-mortem, has always been reflected in garments, shows and branded spaces bearing his name. It would be impossible to capture the resplendent theatrics of yesteryear’s McQueen runways in the flagship stores, yet, the minimised environments have a different strength: keeping all focus on the clothes. In the new space, the textiles sing against a contrasting backdrop of oak and walnut.
It would be impossible to capture the resplendent theatrics of yesteryear’s McQueen runways in the flagship stores, yet, the minimised environments have a different strength
Going into the relocation with an entirely new design concept was key for the brand’s creative director, Sarah Burton, and architect Smiljan Radic. Burton took on the creative direction of Alexander McQueen after the designer’s passing in 2010, having been at his side as early as the mid-nineties. Since, she’s been credited with giving the brand a softer, unmistakably female touch.
As McQueen’s brick-and-mortar presence grows, that’s becoming clear spatially, too. In 2016, the Paris flagship designed by David Collins Studio on Rue Saint-Honoré won the second edition of the Prix Versailles for Commercial Architecture.
But gone is the gilding, marble and high contrast of spaces before; this converse speaks to the other extreme of McQueen’s ethos: sinewy structures and mixed-material sculptures by Chilean artist Marcela Correa illustrate a fascination for nature and craftsmanship in all forms.
The space will transform every season as different fabrics appear on the store’s façade and in the dressing rooms. Created, woven and embroidered by Burton and the studio, the textiles don’t stand alone – instead, they become part of the architecture itself. Glass cylinders in the interior reflect and create a connection between the floors. A new cladding material called ‘cotton-crete’, a cotton-based papier mâche, was developed for the space – this is Burton’s first retail environment she’s been able to design herself.
With one floor dedicated to womenswear and another for menswear, the third is an experiential space, one that the team hopes will encourage the formation of a creative community. It’s central for the brand that new talents be nurtured; pieces from the house’s archives and current collection live alongside photography and artwork, and the area can be used to host exhibitions and talks.
The Bond Street flagship is more than just a place to honour McQueen: it’s a place to admire the fantasy others are empowered to create because of him.