alexander mcqueen hits the north
From Liverpool to Leeds, Sarah Burton celebrated the creativity and beauty of the northern England she grew up in.
Sarah Burton's McQueen show was an ode to the north of England she grew up in. Often starting her collections with a field visit to somewhere in the UK, this time the designer took her team on research trips to Macclesfield, just outside of Manchester, where she was raised, and to the nearby towns where mills still produce suiting textiles.
The show took place in a unmaintained warehouse, where the audience were perched on bolts of fabric from these mills, as more Made In England fabrics stomped past on a plywood-plank catwalk. The north and its emblems were present and breathtakingly beautiful. Selena Forrest’s black gown with a sheer bodice was covered in tufted embroidery of the birds of the north: the owl is a symbol of Leeds, the seagull a symbol of Blackpool and the cormorant a symbol of Liverpool. One gown embroidered with laser-cut metal sequins was designed to evoke the sound of a loom heddle as it moved.
A chalk-white denim dress had top-stitched corset lines and exploded frayed rose draped over the collarbone, recalling the White Rose of York. The final look was one of those jaw-dropping McQueen moments: Anok Yai in an abbreviated gown made from red taffeta sculpted to resemble the Red Rose of Lancashire, which Sarah described as “an explosion of beauty coming out of something dark”.
Yet at this collection’s core was tailoring, which Sarah described as armour, “but not in a literal way”. The shoulders were perfectly wide, a welcome respite from the steroid shoulders we’ve seen this season, and often draped with silver chains, studded leather belts and elegant swathes of fabric as twisted coat tails. “Tailoring is inherent to McQueen, and it always will be because Lee started on Savile Row,” she said. “The backbone of what we wear is a suit, trousers and jacket.”
It’s interesting to consider this collection in the maddening context of that word which was hardly mentioned in Paris: Brexit. Sarah probably isn’t ignorant to the fact that so many rural towns in the UK voted Leave, partly because of the diminishing demand for British production, and the dwindling jobs for skilled craftspeople as a result of that. So here was a collection that put it at its forefront -- and many of the dresses were crafted from offcuts discarded on factory floors. It’s a crazy time for Britain right now, but there was a hope that beauty can come from it.