Memory and Folktale: Couture Fiction at Alexander McQueen

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Alexander McQueen S/S19Imagery courtesy Alexander McQueen

Sarah Burton marks the milestones of life through exquisite craftwork and storytelling for S/S19

“The journey of women and the journey of a woman” began Sarah Burton’s show notes for her S/S19 collection for Alexander McQueen. This journey, set out along the catwalk at l’Orangerie du Sénat, Paris, was a winding one – as models wove in and out of poster-plastered boulders that studded a gritty gravel path. Burton had milestones on her mind, those which punctuate life: birth, sisterhood, betrothal, marriage and mourning. These traditional rites of passage are of course nothing new but in Burton’s hands entwine darkness with light, girlish femininity with warrior-like precision – strength with fragility.

And though this path was decidedly rocky, it was flower-strewn too – “the Avalon marshes with their meandering paths and streams edged with tangled wild yellow iris” were a direct influence on the collection. Leather corset dresses were elevated by hand-painted English flowers and birds; laced leather harnesses were gilded with silk jacquard poppies; black tulle was peppered with heraldic jewel flowers that resembled medieval coats of arms. In the complexities of the McQueen woman comes both “the summer solstice and the equinox”. This delicate play was wrought with the finest attention to detail, since like couture creations Burton’s designs are made to last.

A linen voile christening dress marked the disembarkation of innocence: embroidered with motifs of the night – bats, owls – and the day – birds, butterflies, deer – and cinched with 16th-century corsetry by way of a laced bodice. An ivory silk taffeta corset dress with voluminous poet sleeves echoed matrimonial majesty; a washed out Ophelia floral print of peonies and rambling roses nods simultaneously to Pre-Raphaelite romance, heartbreak and madness. A thick crystal-rose choker on this look – alongside taut leather belts, harnesses, caged footwear and toe-capped boots throughout – made for a fastened, nay braced, uniform with which to tackle life’s formative moments.

A finale gown of black cage-like latticed guipure embroidery followed a golden armoured dress of the same construction; it glimmered with crystal and closed the show with funereal force. Those medieval motifs again – this time of horses, stags, shells and eagles – brought the McQueen woman full circle along her journey.