PFW A/W '11 Report: Alexander McQueen

09 March 2011

Sarah Burton must have known her winter collection was a triumph from the roar of the crowd as the last model left the catwalk. She appeared, taking a modest bow, looking tired but happy. What a week it’s been. What a year!

This is only her second solo collection for the house founded by Lee Alexander McQueen. Other designers baulk at filling big shoes. But she has also had to steer the team through violent bereavement and loss of their mentor. She’s had to keep them to the punishing schedule in the difficult months following the funeral and recent first anniversary. She’s had to work while speculation about McQueen’s successor raged around her. Then, work on while speculation raged again as to whether or not she was up to the job. Then, over the past week, as she was about to unveil this collection, she has had to keep her head while the world’s press have speculated about whether or not she was designing Kate Middleton’s wedding dress. McQueen staff have been plagued at home, at work and in their Paris hotels by doorstepping reporters and on every possible telephone number, listed or unlisted.  

And still she managed to deliver a collection that was nothing short of a moment of magic.

It’s been quite a tough month in fashion. The pack has ploughed the turf from New York to Paris, on the road pretty much every day since early February, hoping to unearth something fabulous for their stores and fashion pages. And to be honest there’s been a dearth of fabulousness. But at the end of this show, the international buyers were practically tearful, and the press were on their feet.

What is particularly brilliant about Sarah Burton is the way she manages to keep the essence of McQueen (there are lots of designers out there who have been completely bamboozled by the challenge of how to handle the dna of the house they inherited) and yet she also brings something that is distinctly her. A great McQueen show was marvelous and menacing in equal measure. Burton has brought a femininity to that potent mix which makes the clothes just as exciting but all the more desirable.

It opened with strictly tailored suits, with high necks, slim sleeves and seams picked out with the exposed teeth of metal zips. Some of them were topped with a body brace of leather straps. It sounds harsh, but there was a delicacy in wool laid in panels over chiffon so the sharpest tailoring moved like the softest evening gown. And while the leather brace had dark connotations it sat, cage like, away from the body, more like a comment about women in the world rather than an S+M contraption. The feminine curve in the coats, (cut in similarly demure high necked, full skirted shapes) was enhanced with luxurious trims of feather or fur.  

But it was the end section of gowns that brought the house down. The dark tailored looks segued into a series of white and pale lavender dresses cut again with the high neck, neat waist and full skirts that were a tumble of tiny layers of feathered chiffon. Gowns with long frothy trains had tight crystal embroidered bodices. Another, fully embroidered had a deep hem of marabou. Delicate billowy ballown sleeves of chiffon made the models look like angels as they walked.

These were dream dresses. The workmanship was worthy of any couture house. And, speculation aside, if Kate Middleton hasn’t at least considered Sarah Burton for her big day, then frankly the Buckingham Palace advisers need their heads examined.

- Paula Reed in Paris


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