alexander mcqueen's quiet beauty
The devil is always in the detail for Sarah Burton.
As the sound of softly crashing waves filled the decked room of the Alexander McQueen show, it quickly became clear that this was about meditative escape -- the fashion equivalent of ASMR. Sarah Burton said her latest collection was about time, the slowing down of it, and what it can produce. “There is so much noise in the world,” she said after the show, her pin cushion still around her wrist. “To have a moment to think and be as a studio -- it’s a calm time to consider our own thoughts, having time to think and understand what you think.”
So Sarah took her team away on a field trip, as always, to switch off and fall in love with nature and handcraft all over again. This time they travelled through Ireland, where they discovered age-old linen mills, some of which were made from flax grown at a female-owned farm. They became enchanted by stories of sun-bleaching and moon-bleaching -- legend has it that the two processes have different effects on fabric coloration -- and they reprised the art of ‘beetling’, a process in which linen is covered in potato starch and then pounded on a wooden machine for hours -- 120 in the case of some of the lacquered linen pieces.
Such an organic approach to research, localised production and fabric sourcing is why Alexander McQueen always looks so breathtakingly beautiful. You can tell that it is made with love, feel the emotion stitched into every seam and the beauty in every carefully considered detail. Whereas once a McQueen show was a byword for a kind of dark theatricality, today it is a showcase of the most intricate forms of craftsmanship. Sarah’s passion is seeking out the beauty of tradition and celebrating its magic. “It’s about catching things before they disappear,” she said of many of the mills, factories and techniques that she uses. She is interested by the romance of storytelling, passed down through whispers and tales.
Stella Tennant’s linen dress, for instance, stemmed from one of the life drawing workshops that Julie Verhoeven hosted for Central Saint Martins students at the Alexander McQueen flagship on Bond Street in London -- which is part-boutique, part-educational institution. After seeing all of their drawings, Sarah took inspiration from The Stitch School, an initiative founded to reconnect young people to embroidery, and invited everyone at McQueen (including the corporate departments) to help turn those illustrations into embroidery on the fabric. The idea was that people made the time, stepping away from their emails and iPhones and using their hands, quieting their minds and probably feeling all the better for it.
There was plenty of the powerful tailoring with cinched waists. One suit was backless, spliced towards the waist and made from British mohair sharkskin, a worsted wool from mills in the north of England. Others were edged in delicate lace or sculptural in tough-luxe leather. There were romantic leg-of-mutton sleeves -- also worn by the London Contemporary Orchestra, which performed during the show -- and ivory silk dresses embroidered with endangered flowers. Eyelets were blown up and lined slashes across the body, almost like a blown-up corsetry fastening... but much more forgiving. Towards the end of the show, a pair of blue and pink dresses hand-pleated and hand-cut from silk gauze organza were designed to resemble the flax flower that was a vital ingredient to some of the linens elsewhere in the collection.
If there’s a sense of familiarity, it is because Sarah reused patterns and upcycled materials from previous collections, both by herself and McQueen. As fashion consumption reaches fever pitch and the industry is forced to evaluate its environmental impact, that’s a powerful sentiment. We don’t always need a creative U-turn. It could well be something locally produced from organic materials. As for the look, if it isn’t broken... This show was more than just perfect. It was quietly revolutionary, mainly because its beauty went so much deeper than the surface -- it was in its very fibre -- and that couldn’t be more important right now.
Photography Mitchell Sams