The fashion bubble. We all know what it means: that from right after Labor Day until whatever date in early October, our lives are consumed by fashion. Sorry, friends; life partners; kids starting school, whether pre-K or college, fashion takes priority, the most important thing.
Only we all know that that’s not really true, that many things are far more important than fashion. Just ask anyone in the industry who was on the show circuit on Sept. 11, 2001. On Monday, a day of unimaginable tragedy in the U.S., Paris Fashion Week went on, the fashion throng assembling for the Alexander McQueen show as the Las Vegas death toll mounted. There’s no good way to transition to a fashion review, but to not acknowledge the event feels wildly uncomfortable.
Backstage before her show, McQueen’s Sarah Burton talked about her desire to deliver an optimistic collection, a notion expressed by a number of designers this season. “So many terrible things happen in the world. We should celebrate people and fashion and creativity,” she said. “I wanted to celebrate beauty and femininity. I wanted to do an uplifting collection.”
And so she did, an exquisite one based on English gardens, specifically the gardens at Great Dixter. She and her design team visited and came away enchanted by the flowers, but also by the idea of the impact of nature overall — the rain; the sun that both warms and degrades. Somehow that led to a focus on preservation and heirlooms, the notion of foraging through artifacts for special finds to treasure, fashion that lasts, the antithesis of disposable.
Hence the collection’s intrinsic dichotomy — deconstructed yet lavishly ornamented. “Some of the women are almost like flowers themselves,” Burton said. But not shrinking violets, as they paraded their glorious states of dishabille with sure-footed purpose in clunky utility boots. Who says a sensible shoe can’t have Lucite heels embedded with flowers? Sometimes the women wore precise leather dresses with hardware fastenings; sometimes, sloped-shouldered tailoring that inset austere wools with the classic checks of British country life. More often, they donned some enchanting floral regalia. The first look out was that most basic of items, a trenchcoat, only reworked with silk floral panels and a quilted eiderdown back. Chunky sweaters in zipped-together sections were embroidered with broachlike flowers over fluffy gingham skirts. Knit dresses had froths of ruffles that faded into nothingness as if disintegrated by the sun; a denim skirt flaunted a hem frill made of pleated floral cotton hankies right out of granny’s attic. Intricately wrought floral euphoria imbued “glass organza” party dresses with eccentric charm.
The silhouettes derived from Middle Ages armor, Victorian flourish and Fifties debutante fare, all de- and reconstructed and embellished with the most exquisite embroideries. Burton spun it all into a weirdly intriguing lineup of beautiful clothes that made a powerful argument for utilizing the riches of the past to create something new.