On Saturday night at Paris Fashion Week, Sarah Burton took her final bow at the brand she’s worked for her entire career. She joined in 1997, and was named creative director in 2010 following Lee Alexander McQueen’s suicide.
Her task was almost unimaginable — taking over for one of fashion’s great geniuses and enfants terribles, whose runway shows were groundbreaking theater of the highest order.
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But she stepped in and made it her own, transforming McQueen’s sometimes misogynistic-seeming restrictive neckpieces, headdresses and hobbling shoes with a woman’s touch.
Soon after, she was tapped to design Kate Middleton’s wedding dress, and became a household name overnight. The thoughtful details on that gown, which Middleton helped design, paid homage to the Arts and Crafts movement.
The lace appliqué for the bodice and skirt was handmade by the Royal School of Needlework, based at Hampton Court Palace. Individual flowers were hand-cut from lace and hand-engineered onto ivory silk tulle to create an organic design with rose, thistle, daffodil and shamrock motifs. Immediately, it was clear that the Burton-led McQueen would remain a British luxury leader, even under French owner Kering.
The Princess of Wales frequently chose McQueen for important occasions, from Trooping the Colour to the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.
And at McQueen, Burton continued to be a heroine of handcraft, who tapped artisans from the far reaches of the British Isles for her densely decorated collections. During her tenure she also introduced a new softness to the house’s tailoring tradition. Both of those accomplishments were on display in the spring 2024 collection shown Saturday night to a front row that included François-Henri Pinault, Cate Blanchett and Jon Batiste.
Burton brought drama to suiting with tailoring so precise it was anatomical. Slashed bodices and shoulders, articulated boning and breast cups, and blood-red laced spines suggested the pain of the whole female condition. Some suits had thread embroidery trailing from them, inspired by the work of the late Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz, whose woven sculptures were on display as part of the runway set.
Beautiful, armor-like glossy leather corsets topped shimmering skirts made from shredded gossamer knits. Indeed, there was an undercurrent of unraveling juxtaposed with the slick suiting throughout the collection, as Burton was winding down herself. It could be seen in the ivory tunic dripping fraying silver organza embroidery and beads, worn over the bumster pants that helped make McQueen himself famous early on and invented a style that continues to reverberate.
From past collections she revisited the rose as motif on hand-painted slipdresses, and in the extraordinary petal-draped flower gowns. She also brought back her open heart embroidery on the sculpted silver bugle bead dress Naomi Campbell wore to close the show.
It was a remarkable collection, showing what she, a woman, was able to bring to the history of McQueen. She dedicated it to the house’s namesake, “whose wish was always to empower women,” Burton wrote.
From one extraordinary chapter to another, and whatever is next.
Kering said a new creative organization for the house will be revealed in due course.
Launch Gallery: Alexander McQueen RTW Spring 2024
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