“The Comeback of the MCM Bag Brand
“Eeek, Take It Away!!!“
by Verena Stehle
“Oh, please! Nobody wears that brand from Munich anymore, do they?” Oh, yes they do! Noah Becker’s girlfriend, for example. MCM did just about everything wrong in its heyday. But the brand’s former target group has aged and the new generation has forgotten all about those errors. Seven rules for a successful comeback.
Once upon a time, this brand appealed to the beautiful and the wealthy, e.g. Siegfried and Roy, the magician duo. Today, the brand tries to appeal to a hip clientele.
It first appeared in the front row at a fashion show, where it was resting tranquilly in the lap of Rafaela, the first great love of Boris Becker’s son Noah. It had a pale brown, somehow textured surface that called to mind chitin. And our brain reacted to it as if we’d just discovered a gigantic and very dangerous beetle: “Eeek, take it away!!!”
Lady Di owned MCM, as did Michael Douglas and Romy Schneider, but the once-successful brand crashed and burned in 1995. Problems with the tax authorities, errors in the top management, the Asian crisis: you can read all about it in a book entitled “Die Michael Cromer Munchen Story.” And now MCM has returned, as if out of thin air. Its logo was everywhere at Fashion Week in Berlin. How can this be?
Rule No. 1: Persevere
Comebacks are en vogue these days. Formula One race drivers, archaic languages, bell-bottomed trousers, parsnips: everything comes back sooner or later, but the comeback is only really exciting if the one who wants to be on top again was way down at the bottom. Like Britney Spears. Or MCM. The difficulty of a comeback isn’t the coming back per se, but the instantaneous return to old familiar top form combined with a simultaneous retouching of old wounds inflicted by the crash.
A successful comeback begins even earlier. Brand consultants say that one must first truly be gone in order to be able to return. Britney Spears wasn’t out of the picture long enough: photos of her freshly shaven head are still present in people’s memories. MCM, on the other hand, was long gone, far away and for a long time. Cromer was fired as managing director at the end of the 1990s, when the brand was carved into pieces and sold.
When affluent kids thought of MCM, they used to recite a tired joke: “What does MCM stand for? Muschi Club Munchen, ha-ha!” [Pussy Club Munich ? Ubers.] Then in 2005 the Korean investor and multimillionaire Sung Joo Kim bought the brand, which in its heyday had earned greater revenues in Asia, despite the crisis, than Louis Vuitton and Gucci. Be that as it may: consumers in MCM’s German homeland have long since allowed Louis Vuitton and Gucci to soothe their blues.
Rule No. 2: Let People Forget
Comebacks take time, also because people need time to forget. More than twelve years have come and gone since MCM’s collapse. Its regular customers of yesteryear? They’re old now. Its new target group i.e. their children and grandchildren, vaguely recall a battered brand. But relationships with brands are like relationship among people. And images are like memories: they fade and mellow with the years. And even a brand that made some big mistakes gets a second chance.
In any case, Sung Joo Kim was wise to wait as long as possible before she began the conquest of the German market. After the grand openings of MCM shops in Asia and elsewhere in Europe, the first German flagship store was launched in the spring of 2011 ? on Kurfurstendamm in Berlin. The website is also very helpful in the process of forgetting. It shows only the brand’s gleaming days and glamorous nights: grand hotels, Hollywood stars, top model, and Siegfried and Roy’s cute baby tigers playing in MCM suitcases. So from now on, whenever people think about MCM, in the best case the images in their minds’ eyes will be New York’s Plaza Hotel, bottles of champagne, Diptyque candles and paparazzi. Not Jagermeister [a low-brow brand of German herb liqueur ? Ubers. ] and overflowing ashtrays.
Rule No. 3: Capture the Zeitgeist
Long ago, it was the celebrities at St. Tropez. Now the brand wants to reach the residents of Berlin-Mitte. To make this happen, the Berlin-based designer Michael Michalsky was appointed creative director in 2005. Nothing had been heard from him in a long time, but suddenly and simultaneously with the Fashion Week in Berlin, he dropped into a trendy blog a pair of designer sneakers that he had designed for MCM. The athletic shoes were white, ankle-hugging and not unlike the sort of sneakers you’d find at Nike or Yves Saint Laurent.
But zeitgeist also means you don’t wear Nike when everyone else is wearing Nike. The temporary shop during the Fashion Week had even more street credibility. At its grand opening on scruffy Tor Strasse, metropolitan MTV moderators stood elbow to elbow with stars of TV soap operas. And they posed for the photographers with “yeah” facial expressions and V-for-victory hand gestures in front of MCM merchandise. Yes, that’s how it’s done nowadays in Berlin-Mitte.
Rule No. 3: Hitch Your Wagon to Stars
Famous advertising faces, so-called “endorsers,” have always been good for every branch of business. Cindy Crawford posed nude, covered only by an MCM symbol, for the Munich-based label in the 1980s. The advertising strategy of the “star absolutely in private” is even more modern. Not every brand succeeds in positioning its product in the natural habitat of a thespian child star. MCM does the trick: Disney’s child star Selena Gomez was recently seen with the “Heritage Line Bowler” in London.
It really makes no difference whether she holds the MCM item in front of a camera for half a second or whether she honestly feels that it’s absolutely goooorgeous: hundreds of girls will already have written its article number in glittery ink on their wish lists for this coming Christmas. How many parents will buy a 500-euro handbag for their daughter, especially when it isn’t made from calfskin, but from high-quality polyvinyl chloride? All followers of ethically correct fashion have surely pricked up their ears….
Rule No. 5: Be Completely Yourself
When it comes to selling a brand’s products, “DNA” and “authenticity” are the most popular buzzwords these days. In MCM’s case, it’s entirely understandable that the brand is clinging firmly to its laurel wreath and its initials: after all, this was the logo that catapulted the brand upward and financed Cromer’s turquoise Ferrari. Sure: ostentatious logos are not without their drawbacks in a fashion epoch that preaches minimal chic. But on the other hand: anti-cyclical behavior seems almost clever. Take, for example, the limited-edition rucksacks and belt bags with Navajo and cable patterns, gold details and rivets that MCM conceived in collaboration with the star stylist Patricia Field and the Japanese designer Phenomenon. They’re terribly overloaded. But one item from MCM is more ironic than all of the many Celine bags that were seen hanging everywhere at Fashion Week in Berlin.
Rule No. 6: Make Yourself Fresh
In retrospect, MCM’s abstinence from the European market also has a good side. During the past ten years, the market has been flooded with fake designer items. Tourists paid 35 euros to buy imitation Chanel, counterfeit Louis Vuitton and knockoff “Motorcycle” from Balenciaga in Forte dei Marmi or seedy backrooms in Bangkok. Has anyone there seen MCM lately? Naturally not. Counterfeiters don’t counterfeit anything that doesn’t sell. While the luxury aura of established brands has been soiled, MCM seems somehow fresh, like untrammeled snow. And MCM differs from other labels in other ways too: Chloe would never print anything as ridiculous as American Indian patterns on its bags. Louis Vuitton would never collaborate with unknown artists. And Balenciaga would never sell its wares in trashy neighborhoods. They wouldn’t need to. And that’s good for MCM.
Rule No. 7: Create a Network
Nothing is possible without networking in today’s “Facebook Era.” And MCM, the “European luxury brand” that celebrates its 35thbirthday this year, is surfing this wave too. The brand invites artists to design products and it invites top models like Coco Rocha to moderate its shop openings. An MCM bag already made a cameo appearance on the “Gossip Girl” TV show. And last year, the American lifestyle magazine “Flaunt” devoted an entire issue to the bag label: with MCM’s logo on its cover and a gaudy party in Hollywood Hills, where guests danced on a Plexiglas dance floor decorated with the MCM logo. Needless to say, Modern Creation Munchen also has its own Facebook site, which 4,156 have “liked” thus far, despite the fact that no one would name a brand “Modern Creation Munchen” nowadays.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Kim has pumped more than 40 million dollars into the comeback during the past six years. So it seems that the world can be bought after all. The art consists of making it all look like a big coincidence.”