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Saks Fifth Avenue President delivers Professorial Masterclass at GCU New York

06 May 2014

GCU Principal Professor Pamela Gillies with Marigay McKee and Cara Smyth, Vice President of GCU New York

GCU Principal Professor Pamela Gillies with Marigay McKee and Cara Smyth, Vice President of GCU New York

Glasgow Caledonian University’s New York campus welcomed Marigay McKee, President of Saks Fifth Avenue, to deliver her inaugural Professorial Masterclass on Thursday, May 1, following her appointment as an Honorary Professor of the University.

The masterclass entitled The Business of Luxury. forms part of GCU New York’s ongoing Fashion Sharing Progress Town Hall series. The series was launched in early April with a high-profile event featuring heritage luxury fashion brands Harris Tweed Hebrides and Brooks Brothers.

Professor Pamela Gillies CBE, GCU President (Principal) and Vice-Chancellor, introduced the masterclass.  Approximately 130 people attended including the British Fashion Council’s Chief Executive Caroline Rush and designers Henry Holland and Maria Cornejo.

During the discussion, Professor McKee traced her journey in retail and explained how she had come full circle - from being recruited as teacher to working at Estee Lauder to being appointed an Honorary Professor at GCU while heading Saks Fifth Avenue. “Life always revolves in circles and takes you back to where you came from,” she said. As an example of this, Professor McKee said that for the second time in her life [at London’s famous Harrods store] she became a lipstick girl.

“I was back to my first love – beauty and cosmetics – where you clearly learn beauty is in the eye of the beholder and that real beauty does come from within.”

Professor McKee continued: “You learn a lot. Clearly we all make mistakes along the way, and I always say to people, especially to my team – we really don’t learn with our success; we actually learn with our failures because when you fail at something, it teaches you a lesson. Sometimes when you’re successful at something, it actually feeds an ego or a desire but it doesn’t necessarily teach us a life lesson.”

The Business of Luxury masterclass sought to explain what brands should be doing to make a difference today. Within the formula for success, Professor McKee pointed out that there should be a commitment by brands to give back and develop a social conscience. She explained how Saks is seeking additional ways  to demonstrate this and  gave examples of a number of luxury brand initiatives, including Saks’ own Key to the Cure campaign which has raised $35million over the past five years for women’s cancer charities

Professor McKee added: “The luxury brands today are changing the way they do business and attribute as much importance to some of the charitable arms of the division as to the retail arms of the division because they know they have to give back.”

Concluding her lecture, she pointed out that the future of retail has to be linked to some of these projects, explaining: “It's really about balancing becoming profitable, making retail successful, having a form of social conscience, and giving back.”

Cara Smyth, Vice President of GCU New York, said: “GCU was thrilled to welcome Professor Marigay McKee to the Wooster Street campus for her inaugural professorial lecture, which is part of our wider Fashion Sharing Progress Town Hall series. 

“As a University for the Common Good, we are always delighted to host divergent thinkers from around the world as they share their valuable insights on leadership and the potential to create positive change.  Professor McKee is a vital voice in the apparel industry and we were pleased to have her join us.”