Did creative director debuts at Chloé, McQueen charm Chinese consumers?

    At Paris Fashion Week FW24, all eyes were on Chemena Kamali debuting at Chloé and Sean McGirr at Alexander McQueen. Were their runways a hit?
    Backstage at the Chloé FW24 showcase. Photo: Chemena Kamali's Instagram

    What happened

    There’s nothing that keeps fashion audiences hanging on the edge of their seats quite like a creative director’s debut at a storied house, especially at brands as lauded as Chloé or Alexander McQueen. So far, reviews have skewed in favor of Chloé’s new look, whereas McQueen divided opinion.

    Following Sarah Burton’s shock departure from Alexander McQueen in September last year, former JW Anderson employee Sean McGirr took the reins of the British maison. In China, interest was high – the hashtag “AlexanderMcqueen 2024 Autumn/WinterFashionShow” has gained 12.21 million views on Weibo so far, while the hashtag “Alexander Mcqueen’s new designer debut show” has received 46.37 million views. On global socials, his debut garnered 188,000 views on the brand’s official YouTube page and 42,000 on its official instagram account.

    Meanwhile, Chloé’s reshuffle manifested as a boho-chic revival by German designer Chemena Kamali, following Gabriela Heart’s exit last summer. Kamali’s focus was on bringing the quintessential “Chloé girl” back to life.

    To date, the hashtag #Chloe2024WinterCollection has garnered 260,000 views on Weibo, 44,000 views on Chloé’s official YouTube page and 14,000 on the brand’s official instagram account.

    Paris Fashion Week saw creative director debuts at both Chloé and Alexander McQueen. Photo: Chloé/Alexander McQueen
    Paris Fashion Week saw creative director debuts at both Chloé and Alexander McQueen. Photo: Chloé/Alexander McQueen

    The Jing Take

    A battle of the conglomerates, Richemont’s Chloé is overtaking Kering’s McQueen in terms of social commentary and media reviews this season.

    For Kamali, the designer described her appointment as creative director at Chloé as a “coming home” – she began her fashion career working at Chloé under Philo and, later, Clare Waight Keller. The former Phoebe Philo and Saint Laurent employee has the Chloé girl vision running through her veins, something that became abundantly clear during her runway debut.

    Kamali took cues from Karl Lagerfeld’s stint at the label during the 1970s, including whimsical blouses and diaphanous dresses, paired with modernized accessories such as gold metal “Chloé” belts and leather wedge sandals (the inescapable FROW footwear choice).

    But while the collection was well-received globally, China’s netizens weren’t convinced by Chloé’s new chapter. “Chloé’s clothes have been nice for the past few seasons, but they're just average in terms of sales,” user @Vd-Zhangxiaowei penned on Xiaohongshu. User @VittoriaQ likened the collection to fast fashion: “Every brand used to have its distinct style, but now even luxury brands look like Taobao shops.”

    View post on Instagram

    The approval of Chinese netizens carries a lot of weight for the Chloé brand. In line with its recent reboot, driven by parent company Richemont, the label has invested heavily into its localized digital strategy and domestic influencer marketing to court China’s spenders.

    The strategy has paid off. In 2018, sales surged across the Asia-Pacific region as a result of its direct-to-consumer marketing campaigns and improved tightening control of products in Asian markets – so much so that Asia-Pacific generated 40 percent of overall group sales. In Q4 of last year, brand owner Richemont also reported a 4 percent sales increase to €5.6bn (£4.8bn), driven by Japan and China.

    Kamali has big boots to fill when it comes to keeping the house in the green. Revenues at the fashion house rose 60 percent in the two years of Gabriela Hearst’s tenure, with accessories, including the low-impact Nama sneakers and linen Woody tote bags, among the best-selling items.

    View post on Instagram

    It’s a challenge that McGirr is also navigating. While the McQueen legacy is known for its iconoclastic craftsmanship and unique vision, the survival of luxury brands today hinges on sellable, commercial commodities that drive profit.

    In 2022, sales for McQueen were €830 million, up from €758 million in 2021, according to Morgan Stanley analyst Édouard Aubin’s estimates. In 2023, however, the Kering group reported a 13 percent decline overall, with revenue dropping from $5.4 billion in 2022 to $4.7 billion last year.

    Harking back to designer Lee McQueen’s 1990s heyday, particularly the 1995 Birds collection, McGirr sent models waddling down the runway in stiff, giant cable neck jumpers, vacuum-tight jersey dresses, and furry tubular tops, all finished with chunky leather boots. This take prompted divisive commentary from fashion critics, the press and social media fans alike.

    Supporters praised McGirr for stepping up to the role, noting that it often takes a few seasons for designers to get their concepts off the ground, while others branded the collection as a hodgepodge of ideas that lacked execution. That polarization was felt in China, with user @nanm_official commenting on Xiaohongshu, “Maybe it's just taking some time to adjust after taking office; the creative director just hasn’t quite found McQueen’s style yet.”

    Creative directors today face the challenge of finding a happy medium between crafting a desirable universe built on novelty, heritage and emotion, while catering to the demands of their commercial overlords – a balance that both Kamali and McGirr are yet to strike.

    The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.

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