The exotic lure of Orientalism, an aesthetic rich for fashion interpretation. For Sarah Burton, it’s personal. Her spring collection was based on her own treasured collection of antique kimonos and intricate fabric swatches she began acquiring when she started working with Alexander McQueen, traveling to Japan several times a year for the job.
Kimonos, cherry blossoms and geisha garb are motifs loaded with innuendo, symbolic of ceremony, obsession, fragile femininity, sexuality, and, less obviously, a refined sense of control and quiet power. A hypnotic blend of all those ideas and emotions was conveyed on Burton’s fantastic runway, set with two giant Marc Quinn orchid sculptures — one male, one female, together pollinating the place with an elegant, erotic mood.
The art and craft of traditional Japanese robe fabrication were a clear fascination point, as Burton commissioned materials incorporating incredible techniques, such as a floral pom-pom lace and engineered silk jacquards, some woven in Japan and featuring graphic blown-up florals in peachy pink set against black and vice versa. They came on round-shouldered, lantern-sleeve dresses, nipped at the waist and flared into a short pleated skirt — a silhouette hardly associated with the costumes of the East. While steeped in tradition, the collection was not Kabuki theater, though the models did wear black partial face masks, which Burton viewed as “doll-like and empowering.” In fact, the silhouettes, including short harness dresses and tailored outerwear with a dramatic flare, were prime for commercial interpretation.
The designer countered the idea of a kimono as a garment to cover up. “I didn’t want it to feel suppressed,” said Burton. She opened necklines, cutting to accentuate the breasts and the back with ample flesh exposed. Kimonos came as suggestion, via the slit sleeves of opulent tailored cape jackets and wrap coats done in incredible marquetry leather inlaid with big flowers. Wrap dresses with fluted sleeves and square-cut leather strap necklines were shown in delicate pink and black organza laser-printed with a cherry blossom motif so precise that if you pulled apart the pleats the pattern opened out into perfect triplicate, like an origami masterpiece.