Sarah Burton has done an exceedingly good job at Alexander McQueen. That's not an opinion, it's a fact. Using the McQueen codes of femininity, sharp cutting and catwalk drama, she has not only upheld the legacy of Lee Alexander McQueen, but has given it her own handwriting. It's been exhilarating to watch.
But there's still a part of you that felt something was missing. There's still a part that hankered after the old McQueen danger, the chilling moments when the refined was married flawlessly with the macabre. The moments that gave you goosebumps, that made your hair stand on end with shock and awe. Burton achieved that with her Spring/Summer 2012 collection. She didn't ease up the romance, she didn't compromise the workmanship, but she combined these to a sense of showmanship and an eerie beauty that felt unequivocally McQueen.
Burton looked undersea for her inspiration this season. It's a place McQueen examined himself - his Spring 2010 Plato's Atlantis collection imagined a world of melted polar icecaps, flooded cities and evolved/devolved humanity scrambling to survive. Burton's take was woman as underseas predator. If Neptune were to take a wife, chances are she'd look just like this. 'Siren dressing' is a fashion journo stock-phrase, but Burton's women like sirens in the true mythological sense of the term - oddly alluring, fatally seductive, and utterly terrifying. Each and every one had their heads veiled, some in whisper-fine veils of lace framing the face, some obscured entirely with crystal-crusted barnacles or anemone-alike beading, faces tremblante with bugle-beads standing on end like Hellraiser's Pinhead. It was appalling, but it was also one of the most powerful catwalk statements of the season - and the most beautiful, albeit strange and warped.
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The thrill factor was what was really great about this collection, but Burton is a canny businesswoman too. She didn't let the theme overpower the clothes. Rather it gave an edge to Burton's savage tailoring, exquisite embroidered sheath dresses and tatterdemalion chiffon ball-gowns floating down the catwalk like elegant algae. The latter two looked like private order and red carpet stuff, exquisite couture level (and price) pieces for editorial and the discerning clientele who can see the beauty amidst the menace. But the former was resolutely real: the curvy suiting, intricately seamed and bursting into rippled volume at the hip or hem, in beige wool bound with gold or a blue-hued multidimensional print that looked like a combination of refracted water and some aquatic reptile. They had a retail appeal, but also an engaging complexity. The evening-wear took that complexity and ran with it, producing garments that were unlike anything we've ever seen before. Coral clambered up chiffon, shells tumbled down a torso, beading formed exoskeletons over lace or tulle.
The drama of this show was palpable, but the clothes never felt secondary to the unfolding narrative as McQueen's woman descended into the depths and returned as a different creature entirely. When I say McQueen's woman, of course I mean Burton's woman. The two are now so completely fused that they have become one and the same. For this virtuoso, masterful fashion performance, I can think of no higher praise.
Report by Alex Fury on 5 October 2011.