For Part One of this article click here.
Sarah Burton’s most recent A/W 13-14 collection saw her explore the idea of religion through her work, specifically an in depth look at Catholicism. Her dresses came in pairs, ranging from communion gowns, to nuns and cardinals, to popes and finally to angels, all imbued with exceptional craftsmanship the likes of which are normally found in the house of the highest level couturiers, but which had been captured and displayed by Burton, but to my mind, in slightly controversial way. Was the decadence of the bejewelled face cages and the hand-stitched pearl embroidery a slight at the hypocrisy of the Vatican? Were the fishnet stockings of the two black gowns, complete with sheet panels and exposed breasts a slight on the supposed chastity of the church? Or was it a defiant statement against sexism in the church by displaying the power of the female form? These are of course only speculations, none of which have any evidence from Burton to support them, and so feel free to ignore me! It might just be me reading too much into it (forgive me, as an English literature student it’s been beaten into me) but even if it is, I still applaud Burton for having the courage to choose a muse that for some has certain connotations attached and possibly altering those connotations to use it as a metaphor for her point.
Many took to twitter and Facebook after the showcase to moan that there were only ten dresses in her collection. Some called Burton “lazy” and “boring” for having so few dresses and no celebrities in her audience. These people deserve to be slapped in the face with a wet fish. Aside from the fact that Burton had just given birth at the time of the show and spent most of the designing process heavily pregnant, what she did was remind everyone of the importance of craftsmanship in fashion. The time, effort and expense that went into making each dress was monumental, and its impact was lost on those who have become accustomed to fast, cheap and disposable fashion.
The walking Madame Tussaud reject Karl Lagerfeld, who has been known to show over eighty looks in a season, reels off dress after dress in his shows, and the whole thing ends up merging together, with some of his creations becoming quite forgettable as a result, but I defy anyone to forget the dresses shown by Burton in a hurry.
Burton isn’t just a fashion designer, and neither was McQueen. They are social commentators, they are explorers, they are the Christopher Columbuses of chiffon, they are not afraid to try new things and experiment with what is defined as acceptable. These qualities are among the most important in people, which should be respected and applauded. Bravery, curiosity and even vulnerability (McQueen often used a lot of his own thought processes when designing his collections, meaning they represented his own innermost emotions) were present during McQueen’s life and continue to be so during his death and Burton’s reign.
McQueen as a brand represents why I believe the fashion industry is so important in today’s society and it embodies the values that we should all strive for. Many ignorant outsiders criticise the fashion industry as irrelevant, expensive and blame it for the problems we are having with body image, disposable fashion etc. but they really have no idea what they are talking about. The heart of the industry is very much alive and well, and contributes not only economically (the industry and its effects on other industries was worth an estimated £37 billion in 2010) but also socially through the effect it has on us, the general public.
McQueen himself said: “you’ve got to know the rules to break them. That’s what I’m here for, to demolish the rules but to keep the tradition.” He admitted that he wanted to be remembered for his work, that “when [he’s] dead and gone people will know that the twenty-first century was started by Alexander McQueen” and this, thankfully, is what has happened. Sarah Burton has ensured the continuation of not only a fashion house, but a philosophy and the legacy of what was undoubtedly, irrevocably, unarguably, a great man. This is why Burton is now one of the most successful people working in the fashion industry.
by Jack Wardlaw