Before her Alexander McQueen show on Monday night, Sarah Burton talked about the various aspects of women’s personalities —strength, fragility, perseverance — and how those aspects flow one into the other. She drew comparisons to nature, always a major touchstone for her. Here, she focused particularly on the metamorphosis through which a cocoon becomes a moth or butterfly, the latter long an important inspiration and symbol for the house of McQueen. Asked whether she had #MeToo in mind while designing the collection, she said, “The McQueen woman has always been powerful. Of course, you’re aware of [#MeToo], it’s in the conversation. It’s important for women to be who they are.”
That notion of speaking to women as “they are” may have impacted Burton’s basic approach to the collection. For all the intensity and lavishness of its butterfly and bug imagery, this was not one of her epic, magical reveries, but rather, a surprisingly retail-friendly runway lineup, with most looks likely to transition directly, sans tweaking. It started with a de-emphasis on magical dresses and a major focus on feminine tailoring, at times punctuated with a demonstrative sneaker. Burton kept the silhouette powerful but not arch, curvaceous with a broad, sloped shoulder, while working allusions to metamorphosis into the cuts — some jackets cut away into wide panels that flapped at the sides; others, worked with alluring lace insets.
“Commercial” is a relative term, and not to be confused with generic. Burton’s work is invariably compelling, the McQueen studio ever able to brilliantly realize all that springs from her verdant imagination. Fluid dresses, one pieced together from parts of three other dresses, featured arresting, allover butterfly prints. A velvet fil coupe jacquard coat bore another wing pattern, this one engineered to caress the body. Evening invoked the nature theme variously: a dress of endless silk fringe, its gentle texture like the inside of a cocoon; another, glittering all over with embroidered crystal scarabs; yet another, a salmon pink gown with a huge back bow, the butterfly in flight.
It was all evocative and quite beautiful. And if one missed the more fantastical side of Burton’s range, at this watershed cultural moment for women’s rights, that Burton instead chose to ground her collection in, she wrote in her program notes, “a hyper-real world…[where] a sense of pride, joy and optimism prevails,” resonated hopefully. As another creative who mused on the notion of metamorphosis wrote two millennia ago, “Practices pursued become habits.”