Its been one of those days where I've been questioning alot, whether it be the larger things like life choices or the more frivolous things like where to brunch or what afternoon movie to watch. But there was not questioning or hesitation in the slightest to buy the September issue of British Vogue once I knew the incredible Marigay McKee was featured within it. I'm actually surprised its taken so long for there to be a feature like this in the first place. A few years back, long before I started Wintour&Guinness, I was a fashion observer, with an insatiable appetite for content that related to those behind the scenes. Yes, the Cara Delevingne's and the Victoria Beckham's of the fashion industry are everywhere, in every magazine; but the likes of Marigay McKee are not and when the opportunity to get a glimpse into world of McKee came up via a video interview with the Fashion Business Club a few years back, I lapped it up and watched that interview hundreds of times making a mental note of every single world she spoke.
McKee's career is one of fascination for many. After joining Harrods in 1999 as a senior beauty buyer, she worked her way up to become the Director of Fashion & Beauty and then Chief Merchant. Under her direction, Harrods attracted millions of tourists each year from all corners of the globe and helped to establish the department stores status as the go-to destination for the mega-wealthy and those looking for cutting edge fashion from all over the globe. However, after fourteen years with the company McKee left Harrods to take on an even bigger challenge, a challenge that many are watching very closely.
In 2013 Canadian retailer group Hudson Bay agreed to purchase Saks Fifth Avenue for a cool $2.4bn. The sale was backed by the Saks Fifth Avenue board and McKee was brought on board to revamp its daggy reputation and reinstate it as one of Americas most luxurious fashion destinations. Having been granted a reported one billion dollars to do so, McKee is working the magic she once used on Harrods on Saks Fifth Avenue and British Vogue was there to see those changes occurring. Here is the top ten things that Wintour&Guinness loved about the interview.
1) The very first thing that McKee changed when she came on board was completely revamp the Saks Executive headquarters in New York. Pre-Marigay, the offices were "quite eighties". All elaborate gold gold fixtures, lots of mahogany, swagged curtains and overly colourful posters. Now thanks to her, everything is super modern, open-plan and sparkly white. Decorated with heritage posters showcasing Saks rich history, all in black and white to compliment the office landscape. Even the M&M's housed in glass jars are black and white. Attention to detail is everything as you learn within this article.
2) This woman means business and is a force to be reckoned with. Every single detail of the consumer experience has been thought about and for McKee the customer needs to have an 'experience'. The branding for the store has remained but the branded carrier bags that were once changed throughout the year have been altered and is now an understated mix of black and white. "Snowflakes, flowers....You name it, they shoved it on the bag. The only thing they seemed to forget was the logo. I mean we're trying to rebuild a brand here! Ever hear of Chanel changing its carrier-bag design? Or Cartier?... Well can you imagine spending $4,000 on a dress from Azzedine Alaia and having it dumped in that thing?, McKee says in relation to the old carrier bags. 3) I remember reading a story in a book by self improvement guru Jack Canfield about a guy working at a Lexus dealership in the US during the GFC. The man in question was having a rough time selling his brand new cars and was sick of waiting for people to walk through the doors of the dealership. So rather than continue waiting for customers to walk in and look at his range of high end luxury cars, he decided to bring them to locations such as golf and country clubs where he felt he could engage with those who had the means to afford them. It was a clever idea and its very similar to McKee's idea that "when the rich or the creative don't come to you, you have to come to them". She is a big fan of the modern day pop up store and believes that this is the way in which to keep in contact with the original Saks customer but also reach a new generation of customers who might have aspirations to shop at Barneys or Bergdorfs over Saks. "Its a bit like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, with me trying to get the customers to try as much sweets as they can, because there is soooo much to choose from......"4) Shopping at Saks is not just about walking in, picking out an outfit, purchasing it at the counter and walking out uninspired by the whole experience. McKee has created the tagline "Live the Legacy" for the store and its a feeling, a way of thinking that she is keen roll out across America and install into the minds of those who are already customers and those she wants to attract. Its not so much recreating the brand as reliving it", she explains. "I mean, this is the place that brought Schiaparelli, Chanel and Poiret from Paris to New York. This was one of those gold-standard New York sights I used to visit with my parents as a kid..."5) While most credit Marigay for transforming Harrods, that was just the one store, this new challenge involves revamping the New York branch of Saks and a whopping thirty-nine branches across twenty-two states. That is a whole different level and it will be interesting to see if McKees point of view translate into all twenty-two states. 6) McKee is keen to create a permanent Saks-sponsored fashion garden in Central Park where she hopes the likes of Tom Ford, Marc Jacobs and Oscar de le Renta will be involved its overall design. Time will tell if this wish rings true. Something tells me that McKee is used to getting her own way.7) Shifting her life to New York involved viewing twenty rental properties in all parts of the city includes Gramercy and Downtown NYC. She eventually decided upon an Upper East Side 3,000s square feet, sixteenth floor apartment overlooking Central Park and close to her daughters school, the Met and Saks itself. 8) The only things to be found in her fridge during the interviewers trip to her apartment were a carton of 0-per-cent-fat milk, some leftover mini muffins from her favourite uptown breakfast spot, Sant Ambroeus, and a few tubs of steamed organic vegetables from Dean & DeLuca, her favourite grocery store until she found out about the Todd English Hall in the basement of The Plaza, where one can see the "Who's Who of New York" on a Saturday morning expedition.9) The British queen of beauty, scents herself with the delicious smell of Jo Malone's Pomegranate Noir perfume. 10) Lastly, after recovering from a brain tumour a few years back, she travelled to the Himalayas the day after resigning from Harrods and climbed more than 17,000ft to Mount Everest base camp. Source: Quotes taken from the interview by Christa D'Souza, featured within the September issue of British Vogue.