Meet Alexander McQueen’s pagan goddesses

Inspired by Cornish folklore, Sarah Burton celebrated female power in a collection full of shimmering embroidery and deliberately loose threads resembling ribbons on a Wishing Tree. Here’s what you missed

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Alexander McQueen AW17 womenswear paris dazed
Alexander McQueen AW17Photography Lillie Eiger

Last night in Paris, Sarah Burton showed her latest collection for Alexander McQueen, taking us all on a beautifully crafted journey through a pagan history of female power and creativity. With tapestry-like hangings of sunset colours that rose as the show began, the show told the story of the McQueen woman as one of Arthurian beauty, but one with agency to craft her own mythology. Here’s what you missed. 

IT WAS INSPIRED BY A TRIP TO CORNWALL

A trip Burton took to artist Barbara Hepworth’s studio in Cornwall ended up in the surprise discovery of a Wishing Tree, or ‘Cloutie tree’ – where branches and twigs are tied with small coloured ribbons to represent hopes. “It was beautiful,” Burton shared post show, describing the moment as ‘emotional’. “Basically tied with all these with wishes, these people's treasures, ribbons... you could sort of tell it was people's hope and dreams.” The spiritual tree, a place of pilgrimage, inspired the collection’s ties to Cornish tradition – trailing coloured lacing recalled its ribbons, while a tweed fabric had colourful threads shot through it.

THERE WAS A SENSE OF THE MEDIEVAL

The Lady of Shalott – famous subject of both Tennyson’s poem and John William Waterhouse’s painting – also got a mention by Burton, with her influence turning up in trailing skirts and beautiful embroidery which referenced needlework samples from the 16th and 17th century. With their softly crimped hair pulled into a tiny braid at the front, the models looked like medieval heroines as seen through a pre-Raphaelite lens – as feminine as Queen Guinevere, dressed in her long gown, but with the toughness of armour-plated Joan of Arc.

BURTON WAS REALLY INTO THE IDEA OF PAGAN GODDESSES

These weren’t women who suffered from the Pre-Raphaelite’s tendency to portray women powerless to love though – drawing instead on the strong female mysticism of these characters’ pagan roots. Burton said she was inspired by women’s connection to the earth, declaring goddess culture to be “absolutely amazing”. So along with the romanticism, there was a sense of female power – full-length black leather coats and leather dresses with topstitched bodices, boots rather than heels, sharp-shouldered tailoring and cashmere edged with leather. 

GRAY SORRENTI WALKED IN THE SHOW

And finally – the catwalk got a surprise guest in the form of Gray Sorrenti. The photographer (who turned the camera on her girl gang in our Winter issue) is one of a fashion power family, being the daughter of Mario Sorrenti and Mary Frey and niece of the late Davide Sorrenti, all photographers. Gray walked out in one of the collection’s knit dresses, it’s feminine ruffled skirt toughened up with the addition of a thick leather belt, studded boots and chunky, almost ceremonial jewellery.

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