The Shetland Islands off the coast of Scotland are both beautiful and fierce. They represent some of the oldest inhabited islands in Northern Europe with a rich history that stretches back as far as the Mesolithic period (10,000 to 5000 BCE). The rolling hills are a brilliant green and full of flowers. The coastline, though, is marked by rough, craggy terrain and sheer cliffs. This was Sarah Burton’s influence for her Alexander McQueen spring/summer collection and there is little question that she wonderfully captured the spirit of those tiny islands.
Ms. Burton starts the collection with a mix of leather and lace. The leather is studded, giving off an extra-tough vibe. The lace is sheer and soft. The juxtaposition of the two fits well the personality of the islands. The people are tough, hard working folks with callouses and blisters on their hands and weathered lines on their faces. At the same time, they are quite jovial and welcoming, happy to entertain tourists (in appropriate quantities), and very free spirited. Burton hints at some of the traditional needlework from the islands, and the ruffle along the sleeves are a common part of Scottish history.
As she moves through the collection, Sarah replaces the leather with knitwear made from shetland wool. The islands are well known for their thick, heavy, and colorful sweaters. When Burton mixes that aesthetic with lace skirts, though, we get an entirely new emotion. All the colors and the floral needlework make for some of the most surprisingly simple yet detailed looks the house has produced.
Of course, when one thinks of Scotland one thinks of tartan and it is here that Burton turns dark with a black/grey tartan she completely reimagines. The best look may be an embroidered double-breasted jacket over a short kilt over trousers all in the same tartan plaid. The look borders on being overwhelming but the creativity keeps it from going overboard.
Next Burton comes at us with embroidered jeans and cut-away coats and corsets, all covered in floral embroidery. We don’t necessarily expect bright and cheery from a McQueen collection, but that’s exactly what this is. The tiny wildflowers are a reference to those that grow on the islands and give the collection the kind of color one wants from a spring/summer collection, something that has been woefully missing in a lot of collections this season.
Everything else is a recapitulation of these looks with vertical peplum and layers of ruffles tossed in for added volume and flounce. The collection plays continually with the contrast of leather and lace or chiffon, but nothing is ever stereotypical and there are surprises hidden in several ensembles when one stops and looks closely.
Oh, you’ll also want to pay attention to those boots. No matter how many pairs of boots you already have, you want these.
So Sarah’s gone a bit soft on this collection. She doesn’t leave us scratching our heads wondering exactly what she wanted us to understand. Even in the gowns, one can see ocean waves crashing against Shetland’s rocky shore. This collection is accessible and wearable right off the runway, which may well be a direction she’s considering for the house. I don’t necessarily expect her to stay so embracingly comfortable, but for this season we’ll not ask questions and enjoy the gift.