Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen is one of fashion’s foremost storyteller, infusing her clothes not with just the craftsmanship inherent in each garment but with a sense of history, of culture and of the emotional connect of a garment from different generations of women, an act of passing on not only the sartorial knowledge but also the local culture that is intrinsically the core of these clothes.
In the decade since Burton took over as creative director, the people and culture of the different parts of the UK – the people, the customs, the traditions, the culture and the local crafts – have been an extremely fertile well of ideas as points of departures for her recent collection – the mills of northern England for fall 2019 and the stone circle of from the village of Avebury in West Country for spring 2018. “We went to Wales and were inspired by the warmth of its artistic and poetic heritage, by its folklore and the soul of its craft. The woman is courageous, grounded, bold: heroic. There is a sense of protection in the clothes, of safety and comfort, evoked through quilting and blankets. The hearts are a symbol of togetherness, of being there for others,” Burton explained the genesis of the fall clothes she showed at the Carré du Temple.
In a time of great uncertainty, Burton proposed not only a crisp and precise vision for next fall but also a collection so grounded in great clothes that it evoked both the house’s inherent craftsmanship of haute couture and its embrace of English cultures. Here, the clothes offered both a bit of romance and a lot of protection that have been a template for Burton in her design thought process. The Welsh visual culture shone through in a quilt strong shoulder single breasted pantsuit with hand embroidered motif patchwork of panther, horse, dove, and leek based on a quilt seen at the St Fagans National Museum of History, Amgueddfa Cymru – National Museum Wales created in 1842. Charcoal grey blanket and leather corset dress or a black and white blanket woven from Welsh fleece wool.
The collection felt softer and more feminine this time with clothes like a white tiered poet sleeve gathered dress in cotton silk faille or a black deep sweetheart neckline sculptural dress with a swallow tail in wool flannel from British weavers John Foster – clothes that lacked the hard edged elements always associated with the brand despite the insistence on their protective qualities and the ideal ‘courageous’ women who wore them. Even the red leather corset dress or an asymmetrical leather blanket pattern inspired by the tailor’s quilt from the Jen James Quilts and Blankets collection – the leather draped and moved along the models’ bodies as they walked by on the hard wooden panel floor.
Tailoring has always been a particular strength and perhaps a centerpiece of the brand and this time is no exception – a black double-breasted worsted flannel coat with white lapels and swallow tail belted at the waist or a black wool silk single-breasted sculptural jacket and skirt with front cutaway. Throughout, the craftsmanship and the work on each garment are impeccable and surely the clothes are haute couture quality like the heart motif dress inspired by seventeenth century love letters with tulle and crinoline underskirts or a silver dress with love spoon embroidery in bullion, crystal, metal thread work, metal sequins and beads.
The sound of birds chirping that opened the show provided a powerful moment of uplift that life is coming back from a long winter as the models strode confidently in their black stocking boots and leather heels in a show of the McQueen aesthetics with many possible adaptations to the real life world at retail.