When Alexander McQueen made his New York runway debut in April 1996, he was the new enfant terrible on the fashion scene. Set in a synagogue on the Lower East Side, the reprise of his London Fashion Week “Dante” show had a crush at the door, models in deer antler headdresses, T-shirts printed with images of Somali children and Vietnam War soldiers — and those infamous bumster pants. McQueen mooned the audience and scored an order from Bergdorf Goodman.
Why return to the New York runway now, nearly a week after fashion month has ended in Paris? To give back to a city that continues to give so much to McQueen, Sarah Burton said Tuesday night at the Agger Fish building in Brooklyn, where to be honest, the runway in a warehouse piled high with mounds of mulch could really have been anywhere.
Nevertheless, the McQueen brand has a lot to celebrate; one only has to look at the number of marshmallowy oversize sneakers on streets and in stores to know it, not to mention the hit Curve handbag. This was an opportunity to set the brand apart from the fashion pack, and appeal to the U.S. market, where sales have been brisk at new stores in New York, Miami and Las Vegas.
If ever there was a time to bring back the bumster, it might have been this kinky runway season when low-riders happen to be in again. But Burton’s McQueen is more divine feminine than enfant terrible. (To wit, “Black Panther” super heroines Letitia Wright and Danai Gurira were sitting front row.) And what this collection lacked in shock value, it made up for in beautiful, wearable, woman-friendly clothes.
Burton had her own take on the season’s tailoring trend in black and acid bright hues, with oversize blazers kept to a proportion that managed to look feminine over cigarette pants. Asymmetric paneling, zipper details, side-slits, and knee or arm slashes were also perfectly measured, creating suiting that was edgy but not street.
“I wanted a precision to the tailoring, a vibrancy and a sense of character and personality,” the designer said of her approach.
A great-looking graffiti-patterned tromp l’oeil dress with the shadow of a female form (inspired by McQueen’s 1999 Shalom Harlow action art graffiti dress, Burton said), and a slashed bustier dress in a distressed taxi cab yellow leather were also among the pieces conjuring a New York punk spirit.
On the more flou side, bow draping, cape backs and exploded ruffle necklines sculpted charming recycled poly faille cocktail dresses in vibrant colors, complemented by the femme black leather and biker looks that have become commercial mainstays for the brand.
As a designer, Burton is also distinguished by her communion with nature and craft, from the Duchess of Cambridge’s British botany-inspired wedding gown to the dramatic rose-sculpted tailoring worn by Cate Blanchett and a slew of other celebs a few years back. (She’s replaced McQueen macabre with Mother Earth.)
Those impulses led to some of the collection’s most intriguing pieces, including psychedelic-looking, vibrant-colored, shredded intarsia mohair knits with mycelium-like threads, tuxedo looks with 3D outgrowths of crystal root embroidery, and a slashed black lacquered lace dress resembling a wildfire-scorched tree.
With 85 percent of the collection made from recycled materials, it was yet another reminder of the possibility for rebirth.