The setting was a stark black box with a simple floor made of rough planks with moss growing out of the cracks. A far cry, certainly, from the theatrics that we have come to expect from an Alexander McQueen show. But this, Sarah Burton’s first outing as creative director, after ten years as McQueen’s right hand and head of his womenswear studio, was a wholly appropriate pause for thought.
Sarah led the team that completed Lee McQueen’s last collection, the one he had just started to work on when he committed suicide last February. As rumour and conjecture swirled around the future of the label, she remained favourite to take over, but her appointment was only confirmed at the end of May. The chatter in the audience as we waited for the show to start was all about the unimaginable pressure she must have been feeling as she stepped into her old boss’s shoes for this, her debut collection.
She had already hinted that her McQueen would be less dark and angst ridden. From the get go she defined the heritage of a house that has only existed for fifteen years and yet had already established a resonant design signature. Here were the frock coats and low rise skinny pants with all the McQueen swagger but cut in millefeuille layers of creamy crepe with raw edges so they also had a feminine softness. Then came the brilliant brocades, reminiscent of the magnificent pieces in Lee’s last two collections that had emerged, in a logic defying way, from a single piece of printed or woven fabric. Sarah Burton quickly established that none of the couture skills of the team had been lost in the corseted dresses with jaw bone high necks and 3D pleats. And the McQueen bravado was very much alive and kicking.
Here was a designer who had lost none of her ambition or appetite for a big idea. Jet embroidered black lace dresses with open shoulder seams were followed by high rise cropped jackets and low slung trousers made entirely of leather leaves stitched together. Macrame woven dresses with luxuriant horse hair-finned seams and manes were upstaged only by dresses woven from sheaves of wheat. A romantic milk maid dress cut off the shoulder with swagged skirt and frilled sleeves was, only closer inspection, not lace or broderie angalise but laser cut leather.
A finale of incredible ostrich feathered gowns brought the show to a close and released a collective sigh of relief from an audience willing Sarah Burton to triumph. It’s impossible to know what Lee McQueen might have thought but he certainly would have been proud of the tenderness and respect with which this team has taken his design signatures and gently moved them onto another plain. The closing song, Micheal Jackson’s ‘I’ll Be There’, suggested that their old boss was much missed and very much still on their minds.
-Paula Reed in Paris