“It’s all about femininity and womanhood,” Sarah Burton said after showing her collection on Tuesday evening. “It wasn’t really meant to be fetishistic. It’s about embellishment and celebrating women’s beauty.”
And so she did, with a lineup of exquisite clothes that, despite her protestations, had a strong fetishistic current in their curvature and hyper-focus on the waist and certainly in the elaborately wrought, sometimes menacing, masks. Yet it was fetish of the prettiness sort, realized in gentle, pearlescent colors, mesmerizing prints and a smoldering lingerie angle. Then there was the work itself: couture-level, period, from the intricate pleating and laser-cut leather to the strands of chiffon-covered pearls arranged in intricate geometry on the bodice of a gown.
Burton focused primarily on a single silhouette: small bodice, tiny waist, tight skirt flounced or godeted at the hem for flirtatious walkability. She countered these with puffed-out baby dolls and closed with gowns, including a pair of embroidered silver dazzlers. Breathtaking all, from start to finish.
But — and there is a but — it’s time for Burton to allow herself less reverence. Everything she showed adhered to the McQueen canon — fabulous. His legacy is too special to thrive only in museums. However, McQueen was a showman who always presented in the context of a specific story and often with tremendous range. Burton has said all along that McQueen-level theatricality is not her thing, and so far, her collections have been narrowly focused, not only within a season, but from one to the next. Her next step must be to make the label her own, replacing some of the reverence with new directions. She’s already done it for Duchess Kate, and not just for the wedding. Now it’s time to take that same independence to the runway.