With its David Sims photograph of a fragile decaying rose, the invitation to Sarah Burton’s Alexander McQueen show brought to mind Lee McQueen’s lyrical Sarabande collection.


Decay, aging, imperfection, the inevitable processes of life that we fight and to which we inevitably lose have long informed the house aesthetic. For fall, Burton made subtle use of the motif. Her collection, she said, reflected “the fragility of life and the fragility of beauty, and how there can be beauty in decay,” but also, “the idea of decay and rejuvenation in real life.” She thus delivered a wistful yet positive collection.


The show felt intimate, even under the vaulted arches of the Conciergerie where wide, curved seating tempered the threatening majesty of the centuries-old stone prison. There was a great deal of subtlety at play; roses as inspiration didn’t mean obvious patterns (until the end) but tone-on-tone weaves, pleated leathers and typically beautiful laces. Also subtle: Burton’s increasing interest in showcasing either real commercial pieces or those evocative of less intensely wrought versions with real retail viability. There were ultrachic, slim-cut coats in rich tonal weaves; racy bustier dresses with pleated skirts that projected flamboyant charm, and a great tuxedo, sleek, provocative and — in jacquard with lace side stripes — more interesting than most.


It was in her fabrics that Burton really got into the notion-dissipation motif, working lace and airy knits with fraying edges into tiered dresses in whisper-pink or black. These were girlish and sensual, frothy shapes unbuttoned in front over black bras. Two short dresses exploded into skirts formed by giant, wilting rose shapes; a pair of jacquard gowns, the only looks with easily readable floral patterns, had long, full sleeves, the cut of which also referenced the blossom.


Burton’s work is very specific. Here, she stayed at the more controlled end of its range, keeping her extreme theatrical instincts in check, probably in response to the current pervasive commercial hoo-ha. But all is relative, and low-key from Burton still blooms with fashion.

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