This Alexander McQueen Dress Is What Dreams Are Made Of

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Tao is wearing a crystal-embroidered tulle dress and bustier by Alexander McQueenPhotography by Maxime Imbert, Styling by Rebecca Perlmutar

Sarah Burton’s collections for Alexander McQueen make the ordinary extraordinary. Here, the story behind a sublime crystal-embroidered dress which begun with the industrial mills of the north

At Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton performs alchemy: from the humble, earthy remnants of Britain’s past she weaves magic, conjuring otherworldly items of clothing which seem to have appeared from dream or reverie. Her collections begin in remote places – whether the wind-battered shores of the Shetland Islands or the centuries-old linen factories and flax farms of Northern Ireland – and end with sublimely beautiful shows in the delicate surrounds of the Orangerie du Sénat in Paris’ Jardin du Luxembourg.

For Autumn/Winter 2019, Burton’s collection began closer to home, in Macclesfield, the northern town close to Manchester where the designer grew up. A visit to the surrounding mills and factories – where the finest British cloth has been woven since the industrial revolution – set the collection in motion. “I took my team to those mills, to a landscape that I remember from my childhood,” the designer said. “The heart of the collection is inspired by the bolts of cloth we saw woven both by man and machine.”

From these mills, where the noise is deafening and the floor is littered with yarn and selvedge ends, emerged a collection of poised beauty: from razor-sharp tailoring in men’s suiting cloth, the “Made in England” selvedge left on show, to voluminous twists of taffeta and duchess satin which resembled overblown roses, and recalled at once the folk tradition of ‘Rose Queens’ and the windswept romance of the Brontë sisters’ novels. A final slew of gowns sought to evoke the mill floor itself, delicately embroidered with bugle beads and silver sequins, made from the metal heddles of the loom, which jangled as they walked.

This dress, in weightless black tulle, teeters between industry and romance: delicately embroidered with crystals, it is inspired by machinery yet adorned with treasure – faceted beads, silver chains, glass stones, flowers. It is, quite simply, a dress that dreams are made of. 

Hair: Kei Takano using Bumble and Bumble. Make-up: Fiona Gallagher. Model: Tao Quan at Wilhelmina. Casting: Julia Gilmour.