As much as we may like to believe that everyone in fashion is a Zoolander, a Krazy Karl, or a debonair Valentino, oftentimes those in the industry are mellow, soft-spoken, and even modest individuals quietly creating their art. It’s not very glamorous, but personally I would rather pay attention to the fashion than marvel at the latest excessive antics of a design house’s head designer. As far as personalities went, the famed Alexander “Lee” McQueen was one of the biggest. To separate McQueen from his designs was hard to do; not only was he the namesake, but every piece that went down the runway screamed with his personal touch. After McQueen’s tragic death in February 2010, the fashion world waited with baited breath, for who could possibly take over from such a legacy? Quickly one name began to be whispered that certainly I had never heard of and it was a name so ordinary, it was positively boring: Sarah Burton. Her name may sound like that of your local librarian, but don’t be mistaken as inside the chest of this Briton beats a raging avant-garde McQueen fanatic and it is a name you would be wise to remember.
Burton grew up in Manchester and graduated from the famed Central St. Martins College of Art and Design in 1997. She began working for McQueen a year earlier as a student and returned upon graduation. Burton quickly became head of the womens wear line in 2000 and was well known as being the right-hand to McQueen. Only Burton was privileged to occupy a coveted spot as the executor of McQueen’s wildly dramatic visions, transforming his darkly fantastical concepts into wearable (well, for couture) clothes and accessories. The two were a successful pair, making Alexander McQueen one of the most respected fashion houses in the world, and a personal favourite of mine for many years. Now without the aid of her mentor and friend, many wondered if Burton would have the creative genius to carry on McQueen’s legacy. The 2011 runway collections were to be her test.
For the Spring/Summer 2011 show, Burton responded to critics by showcasing that delicacy did not equate to weakness. Perhaps as a response to her critics, the runway displayed a gentler side of McQueen, but with no less ferocity. Bird references abounded with dresses covered in feathers and blooming with endless ruffles. Another stunning gown perfectly resembled the wings of a monarch butterfly, while others evoked images of the curling, fire-tinged, embers of burning leaves. Finally, an intricately crocheted white dress with a bodice shaped like a warrior’s chest-plate, complete with the model in Viking maiden braids, had me stunned with its mixture of femininity and strength.
The recent Fall/Winter 2011 show was no different. It was darker, moodier, and more in line with traditional McQueen style, but still softer than with its previous head. The trademark severe edges were lessened with healthy doses of fur. Strong shoulders were still there, but they coexisted with a positively feminine white dress with swooping bell sleeves. Many of the dresses were white and featured tons of lace and embroidery, further fueling rumours that Burton has weddings on the mind – particularly that of a certain royal’s. The highlight of the show had to be a statuesque gown made of broken china pieces and an explosion of organza.
It is perfectly evident that both collections show a confident designer unafraid of taking risks and who is truly innovative when blurring the line between art and fashion. After such strong and highly received showings, Sarah Burton has told the world her message resoundingly clear: she is a strong, independent woman and she is Alexander McQueen now.