Sarah Burton's designs for Alexander McQueen are famous for their amazing feats of technical finesse demonstrated at the eye-popping catwalk shows – the SS12 ‘underwater spectacular’ collection being a case in point. But the designer will not be branching out into a separate couture line. As Ms Burton OBE explained to the NYTimes; ‘We do so many collections, and I want each one to be special,’ she said. ‘There is always a lot done by hand, even for the pre-collection. I know this is not Paris couture, but in our humble way we are working towards it.’
The fact that the late founder of the house, Alexander McQueen, owed part of his skills base to working in the haute couture atelier at his role at Givenchy in the Nineties, is a major factor in this. Among the workers at Burton’s atelier in Clerkenwell in London are the British equivalents of couture’s ‘petites mains’ to create the inspiration, or maybe the final details of all the collections. While creating the wedding dress for the Duchess of Cambridge last year, teams of seamstresses and lace makers were all needed to hand-craft the resulting bridal confection.
‘We have an amazing ability to develop any collection with our technicians, with students and with people working by hand,' Burton said. ‘A lot is done in a three-dimensional way.’ Although discreet about their identities (like where she keeps the Kate Middleton mannequin) the fashion house have a core of private clients who commission bespoke dresses based on the catwalk show pieces that are worlds away from the commercial stock of the McQueen international boutiques.
Interestingly, Suzy Menkes reports that Dolce & Gabbana also run a bespoke arm of the business for clients, without publicising their ‘couture’ line. Their own made-to-measure shows are secretive, invite-only affairs, held on the island of Sicily. Who knew?