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What I Learned From a Day with Alexander McQueen

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 30/03/2016 Advertising Week

Four Lessons in Design & Brand Experience from Lee Alexander McQueen

By Tony King, co-founder & CEO, King & Partners

Renowned as one of world’s greatest fashion designers, Lee Alexander McQueen’s influence on the couture community is never second-guessed. His mark on the world of brand design, however, is discussed much less frequently. But the experience of working with Lee nearly a decade ago taught me a great deal about the power of simplicity and the importance of clean design – teachings that have influenced my approach to digital design ever since.

In 2006, while creating a website for the British fashion house, I met with Lee in Paris – hours before his acclaimed 'The Widows of Culloden' show – to run through the site’s creative concept. Though I’d already acquired an enviable portfolio of clients at that point, having designed digital flagships from scratch for some of the best-known fashion brands in the industry, Lee’s insights were illuminating, humbling: a great reminder that a clear, simple vision is often the strongest way to deliver a powerful experience to your audience. Lee expressed a need for the clothing to be the ‘star’ of the site, not the site itself (which was, unfortunately, the case for many fashion brands caught up in the gimmicks of Flash at that time). 

With these memories forever etched in my mind, here are four of my greatest takeaways from that day.

1. Less Is More

Sitting backstage before the show, we opened up the site’s creative concept and deconstructed the design, stripping away various elements one by one and strengthening the overall aesthetic as we simplified it. With each component we removed – a background image here, a line of copy there – the brand’s campaign and product imagery started to come to life. Lee explained that he found pure beauty in simplicity, in reaching the perfect point at which there is nothing left to take away, except the fashion itself.

2. Take Some Risks

While working together, Lee encouraged me to take risks, to create something that might go against the grain and traditional ‘best practices,’ but could instead reach customers on an emotional level. He taught me to have confidence in a simple, beautiful image – to rely on my gut instinct about what consumers were craving to see online.

3. The Product Should Be the Hero

The ultimate goal of our collaboration was to ensure that the collection was the true hero of this online experience. As a brand, Alexander McQueen has long been praised for its exaggerated patterns and austere silhouettes, so there was never any concern that the site design would detract from the collection’s focus. That said, together we aimed to create a website that allowed his designs to speak for themselves, to come to life online. It’s a philosophy I have applied to each online and offline experience I’ve developed since – the product should be the hero; the technology should be invisible. Always.

4. Experience is Everything

After meeting with Lee, I sat in the audience for The Widows of Culloden show – Alexander McQueen’s first theatrical show in several seasons, still regarded as one of the most dramatic and emotive fashion events in history – which closed with the iconic Kate Moss hologram. The concept was so beautifully simple – from the music to Kate's movements – but there was something incredibly moving about it. I couldn’t take my eyes off Kate’s gown, Alexander McQueen’s design; it was simply captivating. This moment was one of the most moving of my entire career, and a true lesson in just how powerful a brand experience can be. 

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