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“She walks in beauty like the night.” At Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton’s nocturnal odyssey conjured the surreal, the subconscious and more earthy Byronic lusts as models walked the runway in lacy peignoirs, eiderdown swaddling coats and bed jackets decorated with the charms of the boudoir.
Chiffon dresses were printed with powder compacts, looking glasses and scent bottles. Is it any wonder Burton’s mind is on olfactory matters? She launches a debut fragrance for the house this spring and this AW16 collection had powerful top notes of the white flowers — magnolia, tuberose and jasmine — which bloom after dark. Spoiler alert: I predict her fragrance features all.
Burton’s return to London from Paris where she has shown since taking over at McQueen in 2010 was a heady, quixotic cocktail of feminine and fantasy. The designer is only weeks away from giving birth, so this one-off visit was a practical decision but there was poetry in the move. “This is where I did my first McQueen show 20 years ago,” she explained of the Lawrence Hall show space in Belgravia.
Even though Burton had known in September she would be coming to London, the collection was no more explicitly “British” than usual. Instead, Burton had explored the strange plains of half-sleep, where she had wanted her women to seem “as though sleepwalking”.
Certainly her collection had some of the strange somnambulant mistiness of late pregnancy — albeit far more beautiful and without the swollen ankles. The silhouette was ultra soft and effortlessly pretty, even the tuxedos and chained leather dresses had a shapely 1940s shoulder and drapey details. The traditionally tougher leather corsets were softened with hand-painted flowers, while black negligee dresses sparkled with golden crystals and metallic charm motifs — many of which were also threaded in garlands around the head. On a sheer black full-length dress, reared a huge golden unicorn. Yes, really. Bar a few moths, there were no monsters here.
“It was about the subconscious and the conscious,” said Burton of the mood. “For the pre-collection we started talking about women and their obsessions and how a woman comes to life at night. There’s soft femininity about her but there’s also a powerfulness in her eccentricity and in the talismans of femininity she carries with her.”
So much gentleness, so little angst. Some might ask if some of the quintessential McQueen menace was lacking here. For others, it was a beautiful dream.