An earthy majesty defines Sarah Burton’s work for Alexander McQueen. It’s raw, intimate and inspired by Britain’s rich pagan past.
For spring, Burton and her design staff visited several hallowed shrines of British paganism, including Silbury Hill and Avebury Stone Circle, sites where humans left indelible marks on nature, and where now, hundreds of years later, the two forces seem indelibly joined. She came away with a new take on her compelling, long-running heroine. “She’s always pagan, I suppose,” Burton said backstage, “rooted to the ground, rooted to the earth.” She is also typically self-sufficient, determined and powerful in her femininity, yet vulnerable, too, a concept that strikes a deep chord in our fractured world. Often, she projects an archetypal warrior goddess whose strength and gentleness manifest in unison, via, on one hand, strict tailoring, corsetry and harnesses, and on the other, gentle dresses with a look of ancient-world dishabille.
For spring, Burton focused on “a woman’s journey, the moments that she experiences in life, so birth, christening, sisterhood, motherhood, friendship. The idea of expressing feelings and being empowered by emotion and vulnerability.” All while being exquisitely turned out.
Burton is the reverse of the ready-to-wear designers who show during couture; she is a couturier showing on the rtw schedule. Her work is extraordinary, each piece, remarkably considered and executed. One dress, in white with a soft floral pattern derived from an old wedding dress. Burton laid it flat, covered it with flowers and had it photographed. She then had the picture translated as a print for the bridal dress, and reworked in black for an “Ophelia” version. A pair of Twenties-looking gowns were embroidered with countless replicas of medieval talismans. The strict tailoring came in a redo of an archival fabric, fine lines of pink subverting the classic men’s wear check, and leather, both plain and with bold hand-painted flowers. Tough-and-tender looks paired frothy dresses with a cutaway leather coat and apron.
Beautiful to a piece. So it seems nitpicky to find fault. However, enchanting though Burton’s shows are, their mood has become familiar. Within her evocative but narrow storytelling parameters, the finely wrought individuality of each wondrous creation is at risk of getting lost, especially for those who don’t have the privilege of an up-close preview.