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Everything in Stella’s bag, except shoppers

She boasts a roster of A-list celebrity clients, a fashion brand whose name recognition most designers can only dream of and her catwalk shows enjoy the sort of free publicity that money cannot buy.

But Stella McCartney’s attempt to establish an eponymous fashion label appears to be floundering after her company ran up losses of £4.5 million in the year to January.

Stella McCartney Limited’s pre-tax losses were almost double the previous year’s deficit of £2.7 million. More worryingly still, the loss was accumulated on sales of just £434,611. The results cap a roller-coaster year for McCartney, 32, the daughter of the former Beatle, Paul.

While highs have included getting married — a summer wedding to Alasdhair Willis on the Isle of Bute — and being the subject of a primetime BBC1 documentary, McCartney also endured fresh sniping from rivals.

Designer Jeff Banks recently said her clothes were “amateurish” but “because of who her old man is, it doesn’t seem to matter”.

To make matters worse, Gucci, which paid £6 million for a 50.1 per cent stake of her company in 2001, is currently in turmoil after Tom Ford, the chief designer, and Domenico de Sole, the chief executive, announced last month that they were quitting. Ford, a clean-cut Texan, is a close friend of McCartney’s and was instrumental in luring her to Gucci when she left Chloe in 2000.

Under Ford and de Sole, Gucci embarked on a spending spree, acquiring designers and labels including the British enfant terrible, Alexander McQueen, and the French fashion house Yves Saint Laurent.

The accounts filed at Companies House show that Gucci injected $5 million into McCartney’s business last year in order to keep it going.

In April, it once again had to bail out its subsidiary when funds — the amount is not disclosed — were needed “to enable the company to pay its liabilities”. The accounts show that Stella McCartney Ltd’s 12 staff, including nine designers, were paid a total of more than £1.5 million, or an average of £128,000 each.

The company insisted the results were “in line with the agreed business plan”.

However Gucci’s emergency interventions — in addition to the £4 million it had to put into the company last year — will fuel fresh speculation as to whether McCartney’s teething troubles are turning into a fully fledged abscess.

Nicola Wood, fashion editor at Drapers, the fashion industry trade magazine, said McCartney had invested heavily to establish the brand, including opening three shops — in Mayfair, New York and Los Angeles — and launching a perfume. But the designer also risked alienating customers by endless experimentation and high prices, she said.

She said: “Stella’s signature was sexy femininity but she’s always changing her handwriting and that can be off-putting for customers. She is also quite expensive compared to other designers and that’s difficult to sustain at a time when the luxury market is struggling.”

One well-known designer said many of McCartney’s clothes were too “youthful” for the sort of people who could afford them.

He said: “You have to know your market and cater for it. A woman aged 30 to 50 wants to feel glamorous but she also wants to feel comfortable.”

However, Anne Pitcher, buying director of womenswear at Harvey Nichols, said she was confident McCartney’s business would turn the corner. She said: “We love Stella. We dedicate a huge space to her clothes because they sell. Stella knows what women like to wear.”

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