Sarah Burton gives in-depth interview

28 September 2010

Much mystery has surrounded the House of Alexander McQueen since its founder and namesake died by his own hand earlier this year. Although Mrs Burton was named as McQueen’s successor quite soon after the tragedy, the designer has not courted publicity but taken a ‘business as usual’ attitude, creating the pre-collection and one-off bespoke outfits for the likes of Lady Gaga. Today she speaks at length for the first time, to trade magazine WWD.

Speaking about what we can expect from the brand in the future, Sarah explains that the outrageously theatrical catwalk shows will not be one of them, because 'that was very much Lee’s territory — the spectacular show,t the designer said  'In that way, I can’t try and pretend to be Lee.'


The collection left unfinished by McQueen when he died, then completed under Burton

She also sees herself as different to her predecessor in that 'I don’t think [the next collection] has to have as much angst in it. I think it will become softer,' from the McQueen headquarters, complete with an upright polar bear in the lobby(!) 'There will always be this McQueen spirit and essence. But, of course, I’m a woman so maybe more from a woman’s point of view. There’s always got to be some darkness, because otherwise you don’t appreciate what’s light,' she continued. 'I’ve had a training in darkness, but I don’t feel that it’s necessarily a personal thing to me. I’m a bit lighter.'

Lighter? Less macarbre? No big showy shows? Rather than try and pull off an inauthentic photocopy of McQueen’s creative identity, it sounds as if Burton has identified the core values and aims to nurture and reinforce these, while creating collections from her own point of view.  She listed them as - 'definitely tailoring, incredible dresses, embroideries, prints — and the sexiness,' she said. 'A lot of designers are afraid of sex. Lee was not. It’s about a piece of clothing you put on and you know you’re wearing McQueen.'

Another thing that will remain will be McQueen’s incredible techniques of working with textiles and pioneering of new methods. Now Paris fashion week is already starting, it's making us anticipate the Alexander McQueen S/S ’11 show more and more!


Looks from the pre-S/S '11 collection

Sarah Burton has spent her entire working life at Alexander McQueen. When she joined in 1996, she had yet to graduate from Central Saint Martin’s college and the designer was about to land the prestigious Givenchy couture job, and at the time, he was so poor that he couldn’t afford to heat the studio!

She recalls how 'I would have to hand in my college projects, but then I would be flying to Japan to do the licensing that week with the handbags and handkerchiefs,' she recalled.

McQueen hired Burton on graduation in 1997, and her responsibilities grew to include menswear, accessories, footwear and other categories. 'It was like a family. It was just so inspiring. There was a real lack of hierarchy here, which I loved about Lee.… You had the freedom to be creative. To me, it’s about a team.'

It’s now only seven months after McQueen’s untimely death. Burton has more than enough to keep her busy – indeed she describes herself as a workaholic, and her hobby as 'McQueen’ as well.

Describing her boss, mentor and working ‘husband’ she said 'He was such a lovely man, and his mind never switched off.… He was so important to me. You just wanted to make him happy, look after him' Burton said. 'Although I felt that I protected him, now I feel that he protected me.'

- Naomi Attwood


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