Sarah Burton has long been credited as the light source at McQueen. In previous seasons it’s been subtle, like a crack in a window but bit by bit that window has widened. This show, it was thrown wide open.
Her Alexander McQueen takes a gentler, more feminine approach and that was no truer than in her collection this season: no gimp masks, no crazy hair styling, no set to distract. What she presented was a beautiful, much easier rendering of the McQueen aesthetic.
The people of London’s Spitalfields from the late 17th Century and the Huguenot migrants who arrived as religious refugees were the starting point for Burton, they brought with them a skill in weaving and floral design. Those artisanal crafts were mined to the hilt; along with a love of folklore and the idea of heirloom. Fabrics looked aged and decayed, from gentle frays in the surface of washed silk gowns to jeans with exaggerated cuffs that were shredded to the extreme.
It was bohemian in parts, exotic in others – those Indian-mirrored ivory frock coats being the best example – and above all, deeply romantic. From the Victoriana silhouettes with corseted bodices to the chintz prints comprising hand-painted roses and forget-me-nots, even the little nappa leather jackets had floral embroideries and sprouted tiny ruffles along the shoulder seams.
There was an undercurrent of fetishism here but it was tame and more refined in its execution; silver chain harnesses were draped loosely around the body over razor-sharp black tailoring. But if show-goers were expecting an edge, or even a hint of agitation, it didn’t materialise. This was an ultra-romantic version of the McQueen woman, best illustrated with the closing look: a shredded ruffled shell pink gown suspended by the skimpiest of spaghetti straps, and decorated in tiny covered buttons snaking around the torso and hips. Sublime and a sure contender for red carpets the world over.
And so, with one collection Jonathan Saunders recalibrated his design career.
The first exit arrived with power and grace, an embellished black, cropped trouser, fitted underneath a black crombie coat, it was a confident first salvo for a spring collection; a statement that these clothes were operating on a season free plane, almost too arch to be bound by the rule book of seasonality, one that’s becoming increasingly outmoded.
The black look cleansed the palette beautifully and a lesson in the art of sartorial balance followed. Feminine met masculine as sweet summer tops decorated with one gathered fabric bow (the bowing and tying continued throughout in a riff on origami) were paired with tailored city shorts. Skirts were full, mid length and gathered: “It was very much about the design process and then that confident femininity that is really close to my heart, he said.”
Almost every piece had a sense of occasion, Saunders created a gentle pause half way through the show with a simple gold sheath dress. He then began flexing his instinct for texture with deep ruching on skirts and dresses.
“I worked with the most incredible Japanese mill,” he said, “on creating fabrics. A sense of lightness was the most important thing to me.”
Delicate cotton, sheath-thin shifts were printed with paper that had been painted with colour, a technique Saunders learnt at University. The Japanese influence was clear; and it felt like new territory for Saunders, even the palette of brown and camel was unexpected. This was clever, esoteric but not so much it wasn’t totally wearable. It was elevated, yet it was aspirational. And the show music? Rousing strings from the soundtrack to the Sci-Fi horror Under the Skin, and this collection did just that.
MARY KATRANTZOU’S digital prints – the thing that set her brand alight in 2009 – should, by now, be but a distant memory. She broke away from them last autumn (they had reached saturation point – it was a well-timed call) with a collection of beautifully embroidered column gowns, and this season she continued along that path – and then some.
What she presented was so highly worked, it’s extraordinary to fathom that she has only been in business for five or so years.
That theme was played out here this, on a lava-like runway of glistening, black rubber rocks. The idea translated to shifting fabrics, which were pulled away to create floating islands of coverage on the body, revealing and concealing against a nude sheer background. The simplest example of that manifested in a pair of roomy sandstone-coloured silk trousers with sheer tulle tux stripes – but what happened next developed into a catalogue of work that looked like it came straight out of a Paris couture atelier.
What she did with a mannish cornflower blue shirt was nothing short of sensational. She kept the body and collar and created a fantasy of guipure lace around it. Lean in closer and you’ll spot albatross, iguanas, and other imagined prehistoric creatures, hybrids of sea and land. Pewter and khaki lace dresses were a romantic interplay of layers and luxurious sheer textures, some kicked out in precision knife pleats, others had camisole tops or were layered in sheer baby doll slips and trimmed in seed bead panels that looked like mounds of glistening caviar.
What these creations will sell for will be anyone’s guess (no doubt, upwards of sky high) but those who can afford it won’t think twice about buying a piece of it. It was stand out, feminine, extremely desirable and it added up to her most accomplished collection to date.
WHAT better way to cement your reputation as the working woman’s go-to brand than to stage your spring/summer 2015 fashion show in an entrance tunnel to Kings Cross tube station? The novel idea came from Whistles, who in doing so cleverly took their customer off the catwalk and put her into context: on-the-go and always looking good. The tight edit of sleeveless jumpsuits, cutout dresses, tactile knits and statement jackets in a limited colour palette of white, black, peach and the palest of blue all emanated the brand’s progressive-but-pared-back mix and will no doubt fly off the shelves when they hit the shop floor next year. A very stylish commute beckons.