Inside MCM’s Plan to Be a Total-Look Brand — and the Next Move Is Conquering Shoes

When MCM was born in 1976 in Munich, rock stars and the glitterati were the first to embrace the label. Founder Michael Cromer München’s trunks, suitcases and leather goods found a loyal audience in trendy, affluent travelers — and those who wanted to look like them.

“It was about glamour, hedonism and extroverts showing off — it was a different kind of luxury,” recalled Dirk Schönberger, global creative officer. “Throughout the decades, it has stayed young.”

Peggy Gou, mcm, spring 2019
MCM’s spring ’19 campaign featuring Peggy Gou.
CREDIT: Courtesy of MCM

More than 40 years later, MCM’s reputation as an irreverent house remains intact. The brand is leveraging its cheeky, cool cachet to debut a robust, expanded range of footwear and ready-to-wear that caters to its evolving audience. “With me joining the [label], the mission is to build MCM as a total-look brand, where we see the biggest potential is footwear,” said Schönberger, who was recruited seven months ago from his role as creative director at Adidas.

The executive has wasted no time letting the industry know what’s to come.

mcm puma luft spring 2019 collection, pitti uomo
MCM spring 2019 presented on the runway.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand

MCM in June debuted its first RTW collection for spring ’19 at Pitti Uomo in Florence, Italy, where neon runner sandals and chunky dad shoes offered a bold departure from its limited range of cognac brown and white monogram-embossed shoes. Styles for men and women have previously had a gender-neutral look.

“It was a capsule with classic materials and allover logo,” Schönberger said of MCM’s footwear fare, “but the first step was the more chunky sneaker. I’m definitely planning to extend that on the sportswear side, and I want to introduce more dressy leather shoes.” For spring ’20, the line will expand even more, with offerings that cater separately to men and women.

“[Footwear] has been the most underdeveloped category in the company, and it’s been my push,” said Patrick Valeo, president of MCM Americas, acknowledging that the shoe styles have been limited since he joined the company more than four years ago. He noted that silhouettes like ballerinas, slides and wedge heels are on the agenda to drive growth.

Indeed, the potential is in the numbers. In 2018, footwear represented 5% of MCM’s retail business — the brand’s fastest-growing category. “I do think that it can be 20% if we have the right assortment,” said Valeo, adding that footwear sales grew 149% from 2017 to 2018.

MCM counts around $700 million in overall annual sales, and its strategy to expand in underrepresented categories helps position the company to reach a goal of $1 billion in 2020. South Korean entrepreneur Sung-Joo Kim, who acquired the brand in 2005 and moved its headquarters to Zurich, decentralized operations to better cater to constituents worldwide.

Retailers are also taking notice of MCM’s ambition and progress. “We had quadruple increase [in sales] originally at Bloomingdale’s and Saks, and now we’re in Nordstrom and Neiman’s, driving business,” Valeo said.

Luxury marketing consultant Kathleen Ruiz, a 25-year veteran and former SVP of Business Development and Media for Hudson’s Bay Company, said MCM has been successful in leveraging its profile through “creative marketing and branding” to stay relevant over the years. “The brand’s strength right now is actually not being as overexposed as some of its luxury counterparts,” said Ruiz, who founded marketing agency KRW Consulting. “MCM is evolving in front of our eyes right now, and it’s exciting.”

MCM x Puma
MCM x Puma collection.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Puma
MCM Puma Suede cognac
MCM x Puma Suede
CREDIT: Courtesy of Puma

Last year, MCM collaborated with Puma on a buzzy collection of tracksuits and sneakers done in the latter’s Suede silhouettes. Reactions from editors, stylists and streetwear tastemakers were part of the catalyst for a full offering. “That started the wheels spinning,” said Valeo.

The media attention caught the eye of stylist and designer Misa Hylton, who partnered with MCM to create an allover logo bustier and accessories for Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s “Apes**t” music video, which debuted last June, after she saw Big Daddy Kane’s outfit at the collaborators’ launch party. “Beyoncé’s video is something we didn’t pay to do — or probably couldn’t — but it was on her Instagram and all the billboards,” Valeo said of the publicity.

MCM has been a mainstay in the hip-hop music community, thanks to Dapper Dan, who repurposed luxury products into bespoke streetwear pieces for some of the most high-profile musicians that dominated the charts in the ’80s and ’90s.

LL Cool J, one of Dapper Dan’s clients in the musician’s heyday, was among the guests when MCM opened its Beverly Hills, Calif., flagship store on Rodeo Drive in March. Pop star Billie Eilish and actress Bella Thorne were some of the young entertainers MCM feted at the launch party.

Bella Thorne, attends the MCM Rodeo Drive grand opening, in Beverly Hills, CalifMCM Grand Opening on Rodeo Drive, Beverly Hills, USA - 14 Mar 2019
Bella Thorne attends the MCM Rodeo Drive grand opening, in Beverly Hills, Calif., March 14, 2019.
CREDIT: Richard Shotwell/Shutterstock

Celebrity stylist Mikiel Benyamin, whose roster includes Thorne, Dascha Polanco and Chantal Jeffries, said he and his clients benefit from the publicity the brand generates. “The way they design is so different — they make so many collaborations and exclusives that you can get on a client, and it’s such a big boom in press,” Benyamin said.

Similarly, fashion designer and celebrity stylist Talia Coles said MCM’s history of navigating youth-centric appeal with its luxury heritage makes it stand out in an oversaturated market.

“What’s distinctive about the brand compared to some of the others is MCM has an identity — ‘you know it when you see it,’” Coles, who styles Rick Ross, Jason Derulo and other hit artists, explained. “I love and respect Sung-Joo Kim for creating amazing new energy around the brand and still maintaining that signature look and feel of MCM whereas other brands are following the next trend, so they start to look the same at times.”

Below, how to polish your shoes with champagne like 19th century dandies.

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