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What a Future Without Alexander Means to the House of McQueen

Audacious. Uncompromising. Visionary. Sublime. Such are the words invariably flung about by fashion critics after witnessing the spectacle that is an Alexander McQueen runway show. Unfortunately it will be some time -- if ever -- before another McQueen line will be trotted out before an awestruck clutch of fashion's glitterati.

The Fall 2010 collection for women set to debut in Paris in March was postponed indefinitely after McQueen's suicide on Feb.11. The House of McQueen has yet to name a successor to the creative throne. Whoever it is will not only have larger-than-life design shoes to fill, but must also carry the weight of making such high-priced collections marketable -- and profitable.

Season after season, the collections and tableaus McQueen presented were deemed "his best." Yet each time he'd return and outdo his last effort. From tough S&M overcoats and skull-sprinkled fabrics to digitally patterned reptilian dresses and crab-claw platform shoes, to such ethereal ensembles as the fanciful wedding dress pictured above left, McQueen consistently adhered to an over-the-top aesthetic that was as far from mainstream as London is from Topeka, Kansas.

Yet somehow, the "enfant terrible" of fashion caught the eye, and the purse strings, of the Gucci Group. The multi-brand luxury goods company (a subsidiary of the PPR Group) acquired a 51 percent stake in McQueen's house in 2000, providing management and business infrastructure while the designer was given free reign to pursue his vision.

Gucci Group's strategic plan for the McQueen brand included retail expansion as well as extensions into accessories and perfume. So while the star of the McQueen brand was the designer himself, Gucci is no stranger to the positive shot-in-the-sales arm a savvy succession plan can have. The introduction of Tom Ford revitalized Gucci in 1994 and continues to make it relevant (and coveted) for a younger generation of buyers.

While the rumors fly through the blogosphere about who might succeed McQueen, London retailers are selling out of McQueen's signature skull scarves and fitted jackets (the latter retails just north of $1100 US) and bidding is brisk for similar items on eBay.

Does this mean that the average Joe or Jane will be consumed with the desire to possess such trademark eccentricities on a season-by-season basis? Perhaps not. But if Gucci appoints someone who is both faithful to McQueen's artistic legacy, and can somehow make it more accessible to the rest of the buying world in terms of price and style -- well, they may have a success story of Tom Ford-like proportions on their hands.

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