The voices of women deserve a far bigger hearing—in fashion, as in life. Sarah Burton holds that feeling to heart in a way that strives to connect deep history—eons of it—with the present.
This collection was, she said, “About sisterhood, about women’s milestones and rituals: birth, christenings, weddings, funerals. It’s about being strong and emotional, but also saying it’s okay to show your vulnerability; not to have to put a brave face on it.” The first look was symbolic: a super-fragile knitted lace dress with leg-o-mutton sleeves, with what might be interpreted as a blacksmith’s apron belted to its side. Tenderness and strength, together.
In the pictures, you’ll see what looks like a landscape of huge boulders, partially pasted with posters. Burton’s installation had symbolically brought the standing stones of Avebury—a circle thought to be even older than Stonehenge—to Paris. She is not one to cut-and-paste her research. The shape of a Victorian wedding dress, bought at Portobello Market, was one source of the show. To find tactile, experiential inspiration for the rest, Burton had led her team out of the enormous new plate-glass offices of Alexander McQueen in London, and taken them to see what they saw and felt among the ancient monuments of the English West Country. The flowers—painted, printed and jaquarded—were, she said, from the photographs they took of the hedgerows on the Somerset marshes, where Arthurian legends were supposedly set.
The connections between the team’s immersion in pagan, Christian and natural history and the makings of the clothes might not be immediately visible to the naked eye, but the finesse and power was. Tailoring is literally McQueen’s strong suit—Burton reports it’s selling well—in balance with the romantic dresses the brand is known for. In some of the best pieces, the traces of the original vintage garments were retained, embedded in a black jet-beaded jacket with a canvas back with a bustle, or the boning of a crinoline holding the structure of the puffed sleeves of a cotton voile dress. A white trouser suit had a broderie anglaise cotton blouse falling to an asymmetric flounce, inspired by antique christening dresses.
Kudos to Burton, too, that she has expanded her casting to inclusivity of shape and diversity. That’s part of her opening up of Alexander McQueen’s heritage to a new, female-led age for the brand. She is a story-teller, and a passionate one. In a time when there is so much talk about the return to craft and couture skill, she is making modern fashion to treasure.