Sarah Burton has been busy. What with museum openings and books and all the peripheral obligations for the Alexander McQuen creative director in addition to being mother to twins who are now two years old, it’s a miracle that she somehow manages to get out ten collections a year. When she took over the label in May 2010, she said then she wasn’t going to attempt the spectacular shows for which Lee was most well-known, but she has kept a certain theatrical feel to the runway that, while perhaps was not as elaborate, still kept the feeling that there was something larger to the collection than what one would see in stores. Last season, for example, looks were dark, black, and Victorian, with hair and makeup giving on the impression that perhaps the collection were part of a Tim Burton (no relation) movie. This season, though, the collection borders on almost being commercial from the first step.
Granted, Burton is still pulling imagery from the 19th century to influence her designs. There were moments where the percussion-heavy soundtrack (which is NOT what you heard if you watched the live stream) gave a hint that perhaps we were visiting a modernized version of Les Misérables, with Cosette and Eponine walking the runway. There’s even a distressed drummer-boy jacket toward the end to help complete the illusion. But those references are understated. There’s no heavy Pat McGrath makeup this season, no supremely detailed hair styles, and not even a lot of wondering how the looks will be pared down for stores. Many of these pieces are ready to go now.
What we get this season is a lot of ruffles. In fact, Burton does a fantastic job of exploring the boundaries of where ruffles can and should go. In some pieces, they’re very overwhelming and large, almost aggressive. For other pieces, though, the ruffles are small, delicate and, in a surprisingly brilliant move, lined with fringe. I know, that doesn’t sound like it should work, but it does. There’s some serious layering going on as well, especially in the early pieces, and the juxtaposition between heavy distressed cotton and light-weight chiffon is handled beautifully. Super-delicate skirts that are going to be perfect for hot summer evenings, are matched with tailored jackets that give the illusion of waistcoats with tails, but more undone.
Capturing everyone’s attention were a couple of denim jackets heavy with jeweled embroidery. It’s one thing to say that Sarah’s attention to detail is exquisite, but these jackets just take it over the top and I’ll not only be surprised but actually disappointed if we don’t see other designers trying something similar in the next season or two. One might want to consider pre-ordering these jackets if they really want one in their wardrobe. They’ll sell out quickly when they hit store shelves.
There are other embroidered pieces that are quite lovely on their own, and right smack in the middle of it all she gives us body-contouring mesh gowns with high collars, catching fabric watchers off guard, but still managing to stay within the aesthetic. There are trailing strings and ribbons everywhere, and pay special attention to the finishing and edging along cutouts. Burton really has not let any detail escape her attention.
With so much going on, I’m surprised at how large this collection is. Every piece is potentially museum-worthy in its own right, and actually owning one should be considered a privilege. Now, consider Burton puts this same level of care and detail into every collection. I honestly don’t know how she does it all. Maybe the twins help cut.