How Will the Saks Shake-Up Affect the Fashion World?

  • Just over a year ago, Anna Wintour, the powerful artistic director of Condé Nast, threw a party in Paris during the couture shows at the United States ambassador’s residence to introduce the new owner of Saks Fifth Avenue, Richard Baker, to the fashion world. It was his first couture season, Mr. Baker noted at the time.

    Mingling at his side and facilitating the introductions to designers like Karl Lagerfeld of Chanel, Reed Krakoff, Alber Elbaz of Lanvin and Maria Grazia Chiuri and Pierpaolo Piccioli of Valentino (among many others) was Mr. Baker’s much-heralded new president of Saks, Marigay McKee, an executive he had lured away from her former post as chief merchant of Harrods.

    As much as Mr. Baker, who also owns Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor but whose family business is real estate, was relatively unknown to the fashion world, Ms. McKee, with her glossy hair, wardrobe of Alaïa dresses, towering stilettos and equally sharp understanding of retail sales per square foot, was a familiar presence. They seemed like a complementary pair.

    Apparently not. Yesterday Saks announced that Ms. McKee was stepping down from her post by “mutual agreement,” to be replaced by Marc Metrick, a Saks veteran and Hudson’s Bay chief administrative officer — and an executive much less well known in the fashion world.

    Marigay McKee, at a seminar and networking event in New York in January.

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    Given that a Saks spokesman said plans to take Saks into the luxury space are absolutely on track to continue under Mr. Metrick, who has worked with Mr. Baker on developing the strategy for the department store chain since its 2013 acquisition, and given that part of what Ms. McKee had been doing over the last 15 months was working on luring brands such as Balmain, Balenciaga and Alexander Wang to the store, it will be interesting to see how such names, many of whom were personally wooed by Ms. McKee, react to the change.

    Speaking before the news was out, for example, Santiago Gonzalez, president of Nancy Gonzalez, the largest purveyor of crocodile handbags in the world, noted that his Saks business under Ms. McKee was up 57 percent.

    Last September, Saks devoted all its Fifth Avenue windows to Nicolas Ghesquière’s debut collection for Louis Vuitton, a first for the brand. As to why Vuitton gave the collection to Saks, at the time Michael Burke, Vuitton’s chief executive, told The New York Times, Ms. McKee “gets what she wants.”

    This is a particularly competitive time in the American department store world, with Bergdorf Goodman undergoing a five-year revamp and Neiman Marcus opening its first New York outpost in the new Hudson Yards development.

    The Saks shake-up is bound to set off something of a feeding frenzy in the sector, as rival stores move to lure brands away, especially since the former chief merchant at Saks, Jennifer de Winter, left in January to join Tiffany & Co.

    This risk has not been lost on Saks. According to the spokesman, after the announcement Mr. Metrick spent yesterday afternoon calling vendors to “reassure” them of Saks’s commitment, and planned to do the same today — though the spokesman also acknowledged the timing was a bit of an issue as most offices in Europe are closed for the Easter/Passover holiday.

    Meanwhile, finding a new chief merchant is presumably pretty high on the company’s to-do list.

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