High Church at Alexander McQueen
There was silence in the gilded interior of the Opera Comique. Few had received the invitation, a simple white card, to the smallest show of the week that comprised three sittings of 50 guests. We perched silently on mirrored cubes.
Silent because this was breathtaking. Sarah Burton – not present, having given birth to twin daughters scarcely a month ago – had been inspired by the ecclesiastical wardrobe of communion gowns and cardinals’ robes. This was the high church incarnate, recalling nuns, popes, angels, the Ballet Russes and the Virgin Queen.
There were just 10 looks, presented in pairs. The first were dressed in virginal white cotton organdy, their waists cinched in solid silver, their arms adorned with billowing frilled sleeves, their skirts stood away from their bodies, presumably by way of corsetry and hooped underskirts, were startlingly obsessively detailed; ruffs at their necks, heads encased in gilded frames of pearls, white lace stockings and silver platform heels.
The second pair arrived in black studded leather, from their necks to their toes, which were encased in long matching studded boots. Softness appeared in look five and six, their corsets adorned with multiple rivulets of pearls that fell into sweeping trains at the back. On their legs fishnets, of sorts, speckled with pearls.
Then for the Virgin Queen in all her golden corseted glory, her arms and legs having disappeared beneath huge sleeves and floor-sweeping skirt from which raw threads wafted. The skirt itself was decorated in rhombic grids of gold. This creation was nothing short of audacious in its craftsmanship. Any museum would be lucky to display it, any film blessed to use it.
The question of wearability doesn’t even exist here. We all know Sarah Burton can cut a wicked sharp-shouldered jacket and a mean pencil skirt, gorgeous coats, featherlight angel dresses and of course the most beautiful wedding gowns. These so-called ready-to-wear shows have long been about more than mere clothes – for that, you’d have to visit the showroom where, we are reliably informed, there are somewhere between 400 and 500 pieces intended for the shop floor. Sarah Burton isn’t saying, ‘here’s what you’ll be wearing come September’. She reserves these occasions to present the results of her incubated ideas – always far-reaching, always otherworldly, always erotically charged. They are in that sense not ready-to-wear, but couture – delivered with that same level of exquisite finish and detail.
Burton did, however, end on a white dress made from organza lace jacquard, then embroidered and pearled, with a short hem at the front cascading into a fine net train, encrusted with miniscule pearls. On top, she wore duck and ostrich feathers. On her feet, matching pearl and feather sandals. That, at least could be worn to a real life event. Granted, it would have to be some special event to wear it – and the woman who does so will be the luckiest woman in the world.