PARIS, October 4, 2011
ByIf the day began with Prospero's aquatic sorcery at Chanel, it ended with a different kind of underwater magic at Alexander McQueen. Lagerfeld's models were nymphs; Sarah Burton's were goddesses. She based her collection on the three Gs: Grès for the pleating and draping, Gaudí for the architecture, and Gaia for the sense of all-encompassing oceanic life that infused the clothes, like the outfits composed of coral or shells. Or the incredible engineered matelassé jacquard in a barnacle pattern. Or the silk chiffon in an oyster print, which had been layered, cut into circles, and ribbed (though that hardly even begins to explain the complexity of the result). And if you carried the analogy still further, the black leather appliqué that infected a lace dress could be an oil slick; the Fortuny-pleated organza woven with copper, silver, and gold was like a pirate's buried treasure.
The details of the clothes were so obsessively conceived and realized, they could have easily sunk the clothes. That did, after all, happen with Lee McQueen now and again. But Burton has already won kudos for her woman's touch, which has literally lifted the collection. The raised waist here was an exaggerated Empire line of ruffles, which undulated as the models walked, "like a jellyfish moves in the sea," said the designer. It was most striking in an apricot baby doll, one of Burton's personal favorites. In the same vein, she compared the movement of a trapeze dress to swimming. Another dress, as pale, ruffled, and fragile as a peignoir, rolled like surf.
But this collection proved how hot-wired into the core of McQueen Burton truly is. The color palette—as translucent as the inside of a shell—had the kind of unambiguous prettiness that McQueen himself might have felt inclined to disrupt in some way. Burton duly injected the glossy black leather—a sinister barracuda slipping through the shoals of shimmer, like the spirit of her erstwhile mentor. She'll never escape him; nor, it seems, does she want to.