Dispatches from Paris: Alexander McQueen

Rebecca Lowthorpe reports

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GIF: Alexander McQueen, s/s 2015 - Getty

Two enormous white flower sculptures greeted guests as they arrived at the Alexander McQueen show. They were by the artist Marc Quinn and summed up the power and purity of the show that Sarah Burton was about to present.

Models with their faces framed in black lacquer, their feet in corset-laced, heel-less shoes, pounded out in graphic black deconstructed kimonos baring huge pink blooms. We were in Japan: the collection, inspired by the designer’s personal collections of antique kimonos. There were body harnesses, chiselled shoulders, cape-backed jackets, shiny bodices and cinched waists in black that recalled Alexander McQueen’s more rigorous sculpted tailoring.

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Then a slender black scalpel-cut trouser suit appeared, featuring round windows of cherry blossom, and the lightness that Sarah Burton has brought to the label started to creep in. 

IMAGE: Alexander McQueen, s/s 2015 - Getty

A beautiful pale kimono dress was woven with circles of pink and black, voluminous chiffon skirts appeared to be made from a zillion quivering pink leaves, rippling organza cascaded from a bodice of enamel petals and, finally, a dramatic black and white cloak looked as if it was made from miniature mosaic tiles.

In fact, on closer inspection backstage, those ‘tiles’ were tiny pompoms, as soft as thistledown, individually threaded on transparent fibres as fine as cats' whiskers – they weighed nothing at all. As for the aforementioned kimono tailoring, they were cut from crisp (not heavy) jacquards with precise pinprick stitches, sometimes in separate articulated panels so finely threaded together, each part appeared to magically hover in thin air – the workmanship was astounding.

‘I used to go to Japan when I first started working for Lee and visit all these incredible fabric-makers. That’s when I started collecting vintage kimonos,’ said Burton after her show.

‘There’s something about the kimono that’s like a form of suppression – they’re very covered up, but that’s not what this was about at all,’ she said. ‘It’s the craft, attention to detail inside as well as out, the way they’re put together that inspired me.’

In a season where straightforwardly pretty clothes have ruled, Lee McQueen’s strict aesthetic, coupled with Burton’s lightness of hand, was invigorating to see.

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