McQueen's First Collection Without McQueen


Since Gucci named Sarah Burton the new creative director of Alexander McQueen, the world that had so appreciated the late Scottish designer’s talents has been waiting to see Burton’s first move.

Burton of course oversaw the production of the brand’s fall collection this past March in Paris, just weeks after McQueen’s suicide. But this, the Resort 2011 collection, is the first women’s wear Burton has designed without McQueen’s direct guidance.

And Burton’s choices hew very closely to the established McQueen aesthetic — a wasp-waisted, broad-shouldered silhouette, with a focus on neat tailoring and a heavy reliance on unique prints.

There are beautiful, wearable day dresses, but also several of the suits for which McQueen (who trained on Savile Row with Gieves & Hawkes, where he once pad-stitched “I am a cunt” into the interlining of a jacket made for Prince Charles) was so well-known.

This tuxedo being a particularly awesome example thereof.

If there is one change Burton has made, it is evident in the collection’s exploration of 1960s shapes, a period McQueen himself rarely referenced.

A white coat with bracelet-length bell sleeves strikes me as both drafty and unforgiving of actual wear.

This look, for me, was the collection’s one true bum note. Drooping, drop-crotch pants, equally shapeless shirt, topped with a tailored jacket is a look that’s already gone through its high-fashion introduction, filtered haltingly down to the mainstream, and been more or less abandoned. Alexander McQueen should set the fashion curve, not follow it.

But, oh my, the dresses!

Burton’s sense for material seems almost unerring.

And she cleverly picked up and advanced, without retreading, the golden wings that McQueen himself explored in the last collection he worked on. It’s like she turned them from feathers into armor.

You could argue that the collection very, very skilfully evokes the late designer’s aesthetic, and that Burton has yet to speak in her own voice.

But Burton worked under McQueen for 14 years, and she was already the director of women’s wear at the company when McQueen died. It’s likely that we’ve been seeing the influence of Burton’s design aesthetic without even realizing it for a long time.

Burton hasn’t exactly demonstrated in this one collection that she has the ability to reconfigure our way of seeing clothes — to create something like this, for example. But even if Burton has those plans and those abilities — and I hope she does — Resort, with its workhorse sell-through rates and ladies-who-cruise connotations, isn’t the season in which she’d show it.

And the ball gowns are show-stoppers.

It would be unwise to judge Burton definitively after one between-seasons women’s collection. But based on these clothes, the house is in good hands.

Alexander McQueen Resort 2011 []

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