Spring 2012 RTW
Before we go into describing the content of the Alexander McQueen Spring collection, here’s something of what happened afterward: Emmanuelle Alt, editor of French Vogue, first backstage — ahead of a 200-strong throng of congratulators — went down on her knees and pawed the ground in front of Sarah Burton, laughing, “Thank you!” In the background, an army of English interns jumped around and hugged another; a publicist briefed everyone, “She even had some of those ruffles hand-massaged, you realize!” and Burton, who was losing her voice, croaked to journalists, “It’s all about Gaia, the wonder of nature, the sea.” Behind her, dresses constructed of encrustations of beading and mother-of-pearl, rivulets of microscopic pleats, filigrees of leather, cascades of ruffles, and miles of lace were painstakingly peeled off models by a phalanx of dressers.
Observing it all somewhere a little further off, David Burton, the designer’s photographer-husband, remarked, “When you think about everything that’s happened to her in the past eighteen months, you just couldn’t make it up, could you?”
No, you could not. Three measures of exactly how speedily time zips past in fashion are these thoughts: a) that Alexander McQueen died only in February 2010, b) Catherine Middleton was married to Prince William this year on April 29 in a Sarah Burton for McQueen dress, and c) the Alexander McQueen exhibit in New York broke records at the Met before closing in August. Those events have so swiftly passed into history that it’s incredible to realize: This is just the third collection Sarah Burton has designed on her own.
With this one, she, like Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy and Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, made her theme aquatic. Burton, however, must have thought long and hard before taking that plunge though, because the underwater world was also the ominous, apocalyptic theme Alexander McQueen explored in his last show, “Plato’s Atlantis,” for his Spring 2010 collection. He saw the world drowned by global warming and women morphing into sea mammals with crustacean feet.
But Burton’s way of looking at clothes is lighter than that of her former boss in both senses. Her collection—despite the fact that it honored McQueen’s classic silhouette in the strict, suited opening, and his aggression in the lace-masked heads and gleaming, fetishy black leather—is actually far more life-affirming and free of constriction.
But there is not one iota of slipping back in the question of quality. In fact, this show, with all its allusions to coral, sea anemones, barnacles, frondy seaweed, silvery mother-of-pearl, and bone-white seashell, was practically at the level of a Parisian couturier—but created out of the McQueen London studio, with the help of those many interns and their chiffon-massaging fingers.
Rich and imaginatively extraordinary as it was, it also elevated the McQueen identity to a diplomatic fantasy-plane beyond which questions can’t be asked. Speculation as to exactly which dress the Duchess of Cambridge might choose from this fantasia is impossible: Like most women, she never dresses this opulently in real life. Any woman who wants a translation of the froth and the curviform peplums which appear here will without a doubt find it in the parallel commercial collections Sarah Burton has sorted out just as beautifully.—vogue.com + photos