Three seasons into her role as lead designer for Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton still can’t shake Gaia, the all-encompassing mother of Earth, off her back. Perhaps it is that deep affinity Burton has to the mythological roots of feminine dictations that has allowed her to not only carry the weight of her former boss’ legacy so quickly, but has helped to anchor the brand in a vision of feminine strength that women, and buyers, find more accessible. The codes of what Alexander ‘Lee’ McQueen created from scratch haven’t been fully illuminated by his former “right-hand man”, but she has surely made them feel a little closer within reach.
Lee McQueen has been gone not yet two years, so Burton serves as the prime example of just how rapidly the fashion wheels turn from day to day. It seems that all eyes are on the young Brit for one reason or another. The ‘Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty’ exhibition broke records in New York City this summer, ending its run as the eighth most visited exhibit in the museum’s history; then came Prince William’s marriage to Catherine Middleton, the new Duchess of Cambridge, which came accompanied by hordes of speculation months in advance, that it would be Sarah Burton who would design what was destined to become one of the most iconic dresses of recent times.
But enough with the preamble. It started with a beautifully cut skirt-suit. A chunky nautical coil came woven around the collar of the jacket, continuing down the front of skirt, both pieces frayed at the edges came gold speckled, like the soft, yet hard edges of clam shells. If Lee McQueen’s ‘Plato’s Atlantis’ envisioned anthropomorphic forms adapting to an underwater post-apocalyptic world with its state-of-the-art printing techniques, Burton’s collection exploded the limitations of texture to create the fully adapted underwater form.
There’s no easy way to speak anecdotally about the overwhelming variety of techniques Burton worked with here. Much like Riccardo Tisci’s peplum-jacketed mermaids two days prior, the daywear peplum skirt-suits here could be the perfect ‘ladies lunching’ outfit, while the sinewy silhouettes were meant to recall the movement of jellyfish. The babydoll dresses could’ve been humanoid anemone forms and the mermaid dresses were so obsessively detailed in crystals, sequins, coral, mother-of-pearl, they could’ve been made underwater from crystallized magma. Season to season, Burton is guiding us closer to the heart of living in a McQueen world, whose message in the madness has always been the same. The world can tear itself asunder, but beauty always finds a way.