By now, Sarah Burton could probably do a book about the traditional crafts of the British Isles. From the English Cluny lace on her wedding gown for Kate Middleton to the crinkled Irish “beetled” linen for spring 2020, she’s used her encyclopedic knowledge to create clothes with couture-like workmanship.
This season’s research took her to Wales, where she soaked up the romantic poetry of Dylan Thomas, Welsh national costumes, the healing power of the color red and the folk art traditions of graphic quilts and hand-carved love spoons.
All of it made its way into this sweetheart of a collection, full of high-low hems, blanket check layers, graphic tailoring and enough heraldic beading, pink quilting and red heart motifs to evoke Alice’s tempestuous queen. (Could another Disney fashion collaboration be in the works?)
Indeed, this was a another love letter to handcraft, no more so than the spectacular multicolored quilted coat with figurative motifs of dove, horse and panther. A similar design was stitched over 10 years from 1842 by master tailor James Williams, on display at the National Museum of Wales. Like his, Burton’s was made from salvaged materials — but from past McQueen collections. It was a beauty. (There was also a pants suit version.)
Folk art impulses filtered into her signature leather pieces, too, which were trimmed in ivory guipure lace resembling graphic love spoons, with heart and bird motifs. (A dress entirely encrusted in crystal and bullion thread work, including dangling spoon shapes, was another marvel.) Meanwhile, the house tailoring had contrast-color darts and bodice details, or power puff sleeves, as on a sharp-shouldered tuxedo minidress with train.
Burton is in a class by herself when it comes to technique, but at times her lofty creations have felt better suited to a museum than a woman’s closet. The feeling was that this can’t be for me. This season, more of the merchandising that goes on behind the scenes was on display on the runway. In other words, there was quite a lot to admire but also to buy and wear, from a flannel sweetheart dress with swallow train to a white cotton poet sleeve high-low shirtdress. (The cast of models, one of Paris’ most age and size inclusive, helped with the accessibility factor, too.)
One thing missing in the earnest romance was the subtle subversion we are used to seeing at McQueen. Additionally, some might quibble about commercial concerns inching out some of Burton’s couture tendencies. Then again, the Kering-owned brand is looking for another growth spurt in 2020, with new stores slated to open in New York, Miami, Las Vegas and beyond, and global luxury, unlike lace making, isn’t a cottage industry.