Gucci Group chief vows to protect designer's legacy

Alexander McQueen's eponymous fashion label will live on despite the lauded designer's suicide last week and a history of troubling debts that have left his clothing brand struggling to turn a profit.

François-Henri Pinault, head of the French luxury group PPR which controls the McQueen label through its Gucci Group, announced yesterday that continuing the British designer's legacy would be the best possible tribute to a man he described as a genius, poet and friend. "The Alexander McQueen trademark will live on," he said during an emotional press conference. "This would be the best tribute that we could offer to him."

The news will come as a brief moment of relief for London Fashion Week which kicks off today under the gloomy shadow of McQueen's death. An inquest this week heard how the 40-year-old was found hanging in a wardrobe in his Mayfair flat with a suicide note nearby on the eve of the funeral of his mother, Joyce.

McQueen won British Designer of the Year four times and over the past decade became one of the world's most talented designers. But despite achieving widespread popularity and respect within the fashion industry, his clothing brand struggled to establish itself financially.

It was only in 2006, five years after the label was originally set up, that the fashion house managed to turn a profit. An analysis of the British wing of the global label, meanwhile, showed liabilities totalling more than £32m. The label owns 11 boutiques and employs 180 people worldwide.

A number of well-established fashion houses, such as Dior, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, have continued to thrive without their creative founders but survival is by no means guaranteed.

Early indications suggest that McQueen's death is likely to lead to a huge short term increase in sales as fans rush to snap up his creations. According to the trade magazine Drapers, sales of McQueen clothes have soared by 1,400 per cent. But whether the fashion house will survive without McQueen in the long term remains to be seen.

As he announced PPR's profits from 2009 (which rose by 6.9 per cent largely due to the sale of its distribution business in Africa), M. Pinault paid tribute to McQueen's contribution to the world and promised to continue his brand.

"His art went beyond the fashion world," he said. "He had a great command of technique... he hid behind an armour of provocation. Fashion has lost one of its extraordinary people. He was one of the falling stars that comes across our generation."

The PPR head also alluded to McQueen's recent psychological struggles describing him as "hurt and lost in a world whose superficiality and lack of ideals he couldn't accept."

Robert Polet, president and chief executive of the Gucci Group, said the autumn/winter collection that the designer was working on before his death would be shown at Paris Fashion Week next month. But he said it was too early to think about new design teams when McQueen's family and colleagues were still mourning.

As the great and the good of the fashion world shift their attention from New York to London this week, McQueen's death will undoubtedly dominate conversation throughout the shows.

The British Fashion Council, which hosts London Fashion Week, has mounted a tribute wall where visitors can leave notes and flowers. The wall is set up in the main tent at Somerset House.