Alexander McQueen Paris Fashion Week 2014
A telling vignette backstage at Alexander McQueen: Sarah Burton was standing there, fielding the crowd, dressed in an antique-white eyelet blouse and black pants. She had a velvet pincushion still strapped to her upper arm—visible proof that this is a hands-on, working designer, intimately involved, down to the very last detail, with everything she puts on a runway. “Oops! I’d forgotten that was there,” she laughed, blushing slightly before running on with her account of the idea behind the show. “It was The Beauty and the Beast—a wild, beautiful fairy tale. A magical character—liberating her into nature. She’s a bit animal—ooh, blah, blah, blah. I’m not very good at this!”
Burton’s down-to-earth, self-deprecating sense of humor is very British. That doesn’t stop her from being a true romantic, and such a perfectionist that she’s the closest thing London has to a couturier. This season she expressed all that by casting off the constricting McQueen corsets and putting her models in flat (albeit highly decorative) walking boots. Her girls were going into the woods—treading their way through a will o’ the wisp mist rising from a landscape of moss, heather, and fallen birch trees.
No wonder Burton was wearing that eyelet top. Crisp broderie anglaise was just one of the many materials she worked into her full, swingy silhouettes. Virginal “Beauty” empire-line smocks with double-puffed sleeves were sequenced amongst an extraordinary array of dark trapeze-line coats decorated with ivy leaves and fringed in fur.
If there was a “Beast” lurking in the forest of Burton’s imaginings, she wasn’t a very predatory or threatening sort—more like a furry-eyebrowed creature who looked as if she were being happily released into the wild. The workmanship was spellbinding. A cape with a huge hood was magicked up from arctic raccoon, long-haired goat, and organza. Black dresses acquired a midnight garden of white 3-D tulle flowers or crystal stars. And when two figures dressed in the only colors on the runway—wisteria mauve and dark green—appeared, audible gasps went up as they passed the audience, who suddenly realized that the capes the girls were wearing weren’t printed, but made entirely from feathers.