Maidens, fair ladies, goddesses, princesses — Sarah Burton had the cast of fairytale heroines, fragile and strong, covered in her stunning spring collection. It was the stuff of girlhood fantasies, except even the wildest dreams rarely imagine clothes so beautiful.
The collection was based on a reality from the distant past: the Huguenots, the persecuted French Protestant sect that fled France in the late 17th century and settled in Spitalfields in London. Many were trained silk weavers who brought their craft with them, eventually building Spitalfields into a stronghold of the silk industry. Burton paid homage to their artisan prowess, quite possibly outdoing it with couture-level shredded silk faille floral jacquard; silk taffeta with naturalistic floral fil coupe jacquards; embroidered leather, and French lace worked into tulle with patterns of doves and trellises of flowers woven in. Flowers were essential effects. Apparently, the Huguenots arrived in London with little more than bulbs and seeds in their pockets, planting them to grow inner city gardens.
Burton garment-washed many of the pieces to give them a tactile softness and angelic sense of decay underscored by the predominantly pale palette of white, blush and pastel petal tones. “I wanted everything to feel very, very feminine. Powerfully feminine,”she said backstage before the show. She chose a subtly potent silhouette to exalt the delicate beauty of the female form. Long, lean dresses kissed curves from the neck to the ankles. Some bore deep necklines and sliver-sized cutouts under the hip or along the shoulders; others were chastely covered up with high collars and long sleeves but traced in tiered ruffles. Delicate and fragile, the dresses were surprisingly sexy. Burton unbound the corsetry she often favors, leaving things free and lightly constructed. Of course, it takes world class construction know-how to create things so exquisitely “unconstructed” as described her designs.
Each look was special, but shout-outs go to the thin leather dresses scattered with Spitalfields-inspired flowers and sculpted ruffled necklines, and the two French lace gowns — one black, one white — embroidered over with contrasting, large-scale lace doves, their wings spanning the length of the garment.
Though inspired by craft, techniques and people from long ago, the collection was of the now. The dresses were fluid with modernity. There were pants, too. Burton brilliantly tempered the flou with tailoring. Jackets and low-rider trousers were cut with drama yet ease of fit, and layered with the tough grandeur of harnesslike body jewelry made of thick chains and antiqued jewels. Nothing is more of our time than denim, which Burton presented briefly — two looks — featuring elaborately embroidered distressed denim that had been washed, taken apart, lavished in floral embroidery and reassembled. The denim, trousers and streetish white-soled flat shoes kept this dream of a collection in the real world.