McQueen shuns celebrity culture as he opens in LA

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You have to hand it to Alexander McQueen: the designer has cojones. On the eve of the opening of his flagship store on Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles – and just when his contemporaries might be kowtowing to the city's celebrity-driven culture – he made clear that he was courting a less brash brand of clientele.

Of LA's leading lady, Paris Hilton, he remarked: "If she comes past the shop, hopefully she'll just keep walking. I don't really covet that sort of thing." One can only assume that the paparazzi princess speaks highly of him in return.

For all the audacity of the gesture – and let's not forget that McQueen, 39, an east Londoner born and bred, is not only unusually plain-spoken given his profession but is also a media manipulator par excellence – the statement is nothing if not a sign of the times.

Because, while the likes of Dolce & Gabbana and Giorgio Armani persist in wooing Hollywood's finest, there is a growing feeling that the fashion establishment needs a challenge. And McQueen, with his none-too-diplomatic way with words, might just be the man to provide it.

His new store, a sleek, futuristic 3,100-square-foot space which opened yesterday, is expected to take the West Coast by storm despite the economic downturn causing belts to be tightened in even the most palatial of Hollywood villas. Alexander McQueen CEO, Jonathan Akeroyd, said yesterday he expected the latest addition to the label's expanding empire to be among the brand's top three performers in retail sales.

The label is certainly making an entrance, with a billboard above the store showcasing work by David Bailey, Nick Knight and Sam Taylor Wood, and a nine-foot-tall metal sculpture of a naked man, arms outstretched, emerging from the skylight. The lower half of the figure, Angel of the Americas, by the artist Robert Bryce Muir, extends into the shop itself.

Such eccentricities are perhaps par for the course for the designer, who yesterday admitted that, "in times of recession, I think fashion is escapism".

"When I started in fashion, England was in a recession with Margaret Thatcher as prime minister. I think it's a great time for new growth," he told the American trade magazine, Women's Wear Daily.

It is now the stuff of fashion folklore that, a decade ago, Alexander McQueen politely declined to invite Victoria Beckham to his London show. His reason? The occasion in question featured a guest appearance on the catwalk courtesy of Aimee Mullins, the Paralympic athlete who had both legs amputated from the knee down as a child, sporting hand-carved cherry wood prosthetics designed by McQueen's own hand. He said then that VB's presence would detract from Mullins' modelling debut, but suffice to say that Mrs Beckham made no secret of being thoroughly displeased nonetheless.

Last year McQueen reiterated his belief that fashion was "not about celebrity". "I can't get sucked into that celebrity thing because I think it's just crass. I work with people who I admire and respect. It's never because of who they are," he told US Harper's Bazaar. "It's not about celebrity; that would show a lack of respect for the work, for everyone working on the shows, because when the pictures come out it's all about who's in the front row. What you see in the work is the person itself. And my heart is in my work." Fine words indeed from the designer.

Neither is McQueen simply averse to working with the famously beautiful per se. He has dressed everyone from Gwyneth Paltrow to Sarah Jessica Parker, from Bjork to Kate Moss in his darkly romantic and increasingly elaborate style. It's perhaps more that the designer, who fought hard to get to where he is, is less enamoured with those who are famous only for being, well, famous, than many of his ilk.

In December 2000, following a four-year stint as creative director of Givenchy, McQueen sold a 51 per cent stake of his own company to the Gucci Group for an undisclosed eight-figure sum. This February, the brand made a profit for the first time following shop openings in London, New York and Milan. The Melrose Avenue store will be followed by another in Paris in 2009.

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