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Alexander McQueen S/S18

A Luscious Landscape of British Blooms at Alexander McQueen

Peonies, pearls, tweed and taffeta all had their part to play in Sarah Burton’s S/S18 collection – an ode to haute couture techniques and Savile Row tailoring, writes Susannah Frankel

Lead ImageAlexander McQueen S/S18

The quintessentially English gardens of Great Dixter, East Sussex, designed by Christopher Lloyd, were the starting point for Sarah Burton’s Spring/Summer 2018 collection for Alexander McQueen. The team visited this place over the summer and fell head-over-heels in love with its exuberant, uncontrived floral planting, meandering borders and tangles of vibrantly coloured blooms.

Flower Power 

Ruffled, pleated, glass organza dresses worn over soft cotton corsets, the better to show off the feminine form at its most curvaceous, fluttered prettily around models’ faces. They appeared almost to be the living, breathing embodiment of the flowers in question. Prints, meanwhile, cross-pollinated: imagine rose gingham spliced with the type of voluptuous florals that are more readily associated with soft furnishing. Mattress silks embroidered with rosebuds were pieced and patched into an oversized cotton gabardine trench coat. Diminutive ruffled silk designs edged with pyjama piping in a contrasting shade were equally reminiscent of petals. Directly referencing Lee Alexander McQueen’s own No 13 (Spring/Summer 1999), meanwhile, were a leather-strapped tapestry corset and dress hand-stitched with more bright and bold flowers. Even the signature McQueen tuxedo was given a floral twist: an exploded flower sleeve here; a peplum of black blooms there.

Couture’s Golden Age 

There was a sense of the 50s in the optimism of the collection as a whole and also in a more exploded, full silhouette that harked back to McQueen’s The Girl Who Lived In A Tree (Autumn/Winter 2008). That, in turn, referenced the wardrobe of the young Queen Elizabeth II, pretty as a picture in full-skirted dresses and princess coats. Today, Alexander McQueen prides itself in being a British couture house – Sarah Burton, like McQueen before her, is passionate about that – and many of the techniques used here rival those of the great French names. Engineered fil coupé dégradé tweed dresses worn with a tweed coat embroidered with peonies and pearls were a magical case in point. The mid-20th century was also haute couture’s golden age, of course. With that in particular in mind, a sequence of deconstructed white ‘heirloom’ dresses cut in a mix of floral jacquards, washed organza and silk tulle and two ‘inside-out’ taffeta ballgowns embroidered with trailing, three-dimensional flowers appeared almost skeletal in their construction. Couture in ruins, these were also suggestive of Victorian glasshouses.

Land Girls

Not everything was quite so haute – or so flowery. Riding coats and jackets patched with country checks were borrowed from menswear and harked back to the Savile Row tailoring tradition that has long been at the heart of this name. A vintage peplum jacket and narrow skirt kicked into a handkerchief hem made out of genuine handkerchiefs, in fact. Well, almost genuine. The designer and her team sourced a selection of antique designs and reinvented them in finest cotton lawn. The waxed jacket that is so much a part of the British countryside was in evidence too. With bellow pockets and in a muddy green they were, in this instance, constructed in washed leather. Oversized zipped knits – the type that makes anything as cumbersome as a coat redundant – were embroidered with the kind of sweet paste brooches that an aristocratic young woman might find in her grandmother’s jewellery box.

Future Perfect 

Two silver leather pieces – a jacket and a coat to be precise – injected the collection with a subtly futuristic feel. Any self-respecting British garden has a seed bank and the best of these are not only in existence to ensure everything in the garden remains rosy but also to allow scientists to work with the healing powers of plants.