Escada and Saks Fifth Avenue, two companies in the midst of well-publicized comebacks, hosted a dinner together on Tuesday night at the Mondrian SoHo hotel. Both companies have undergone a change in leadership — in Escada's case, several changes — in order to reinvigorate sales without sacrificing the heritage of their respective brands.
"You've got three London girls here tonight. Minnie Driver — a bit taller than us — Megha and me," said Saks president Marigay McKee, referring to Escada chairman Megha Mittal, during the dinner's opening remarks. "It's the British invasion at the moment."
It's a been a British invasion of sorts at both companies: Mittal, who grew up in India and now lives in London, purchased Escada in 2009 after the German luxury brand filed for bankruptcy. Since then, there has been turnover at the top executive level, and in 2014 she oversaw the hiring of Stephen Croncota as CMO and Glenn McMahon as CEO. In 2012, designer Daniel Wingate was internally promoted to fashion director.
All of these changes have yet to fully reassociate Escada with the glamour it was known for in the '80s and '90s, especially for U.S. shoppers. But the company has purposefully kept itself outside the fray of the rest of the fashion industry by not presenting new collections during Fashion Month and by not hiring any celebrities for its campaigns. In fact, the fall 2015 collection already debuted in January at the Nymphenburg Palace in Munich. Featuring jewel-toned gowns and suits, the season was inspired by dance, which Wingate explains as "the whole idea of dance, not a literal choreographer or a dancer himself or herself, just the idea of movement."
The dinner celebrated Escada's takeover of six center windows at the Saks Fifth Avenue flagship store, featuring the German brand's capsule collection and collaboration with German artist Thilo Westermann. The clothing is now available at the department store.
Saks president McKee touched on Escada's habit of not getting caught up in the fashion. "Escada clothes are for a woman who wants to look good; she’s very comfortable with who she is but she does want to look necessarily too fashion forward, too avant garde," she said. "We sell a lot of outerwear, we sell a lot of trouser suits. Escada is one of the few brands that still does great trouser suits."
McKee joined Saks in January 2014 after the ailing department store was bought by Canada's Hudson Bay. She made a major name for herself at Harrod's, the iconic London department store, which she revamped by bringing in accessible and coveted young designers while radically pushing up the store's highest prices. McKee's given herself 2000 days to work her magic on Saks ("the length of my contract," she explained) and noted the success of her more visible changes so far: the black-and-white packaging, the redesigned catalogues and the elaborate holiday windows. "When you look at the economy and the GDP growth and when you look at all the positivity thats going on in America, I think we are very well positioned for what's going on. I think the luxury world is looking to America and I think there are big opportunities [for growth]."
McKee started her career at Harrod's as a buyer, and has worked closely with the buyers at Saks to ensure they are buying the right kind of product for the stores. She has also restructured their roles, making them responsible for purchases made both online and in stores, which creates for more consistency in the inventory. "I like to say to them all, we’re not just a retail company, we are fashion company," she said. "Fashion lives and dies by the product. Retail lives and dies by the spreadsheet, and we have to live and die by the product because at the end of the day, the product is what will make the customers fall in love. If they don’t fall in love with the product, they don’t fall in love with our brand."
Up next for McKee is four weeks of shows where she will meet with CEOs and brand leaders in addition to spotting fall trends. "The fashion weeks afford us the opportunity to get out of the office and live and breathe and see what’s new and what's happening — it's a good part of the fashion cycle."
As for what's in stock for the spring season? Lots of dresses, she says. "The fringing we saw at Saint Laurent, the lace we saw at Valentino — it’s going to be a big trend on high street and at the couture end. And theres also the usual staples of optic white, which always sells; the nautical trend, which always sells; the hippie, boho-chic, which always sells. Those are going to be my trends to look for."