Inspired by the land of the late designer’s ancestors, Sarah Burton presents an ode to Scotland’s craft, heritage and Highlands
At yesterday’s Alexander McQueen show, a patchwork of tapestry rugs depicting abstracted photographs were layered over the catwalk at the Orangerie du Senat show venue. These rugs would provide the sturdy and honest setting for Sarah Burton to send out her Shetlands-fuelled collection, adding another Highland tale to Alexander McQueen’s enduring entwinement with Lee’s Scottish ancestry. “We went up there to shoot an advertising campaign and I just found it so beautiful,” said Burton after the show. “It was not how I imagined it to be. It has this amazing tradition of craft, heritage and togetherness that I found really inspiring.”
From her personal exploration of this remote and wild archipelago, Burton once again chose to mine the softer and more romantic tales of these rugged lands. Traditional craft became the centre point of this collection and, in particular, how humble artisanal skills can be elevated. Crafts such as intricately knitted Shetland Lace which was a favourite of Queen Victoria, and handsewn Taatit rugs which express the gesture of wedlock – first the bride’s side of the family would sew one part and then the groom’s side would do the same. “I loved the unity of that, and also the imperfection of that unity,” explained Burton.
“We went up (to Scotland) to shoot an advertising campaign and I just found it so beautiful. It has this amazing tradition of craft, heritage and togetherness that I found really inspiring” – Sarah Burton
With this in mind, the designer set about tasking different parts of the McQueen studio to work with one another – leather people with print people, print people with embroidery people, and so on and so forth. The layering and patching of textures was meant to echo the passing of craft from one person to another. Together, this collective McQueen created tattered-edged lace dresses that were embroidered and re-embroidered, along with Fair Isle knits segueing into bands of black lace with embedded metal rings. Floor-length dresses were shipwrecked and entangled with black jet beading and embroidered with meadows of Scottish wild flowers. Imitating the damp and windswept climate of the Shetlands, models’ hair came drenched and coiled around the face, with folkloric earrings and chokers to weigh it down.
Burton described the silhouette as an “embracing of the female body as opposed to harnessing it.” The Celtic black and white check spliced into sharp kilts and zippered trousers, and the leather holsters jingling with bells were about as severe as it got. When it came to the true embrace of the body, it was down to the finale gowns which clung to the models’ figures with waves of tulle mimicking sea foam and shipwrecked silver sequin work. Lee McQueen’s ties to Scotland were ancestral and deeply felt, but here Burton showed that she too could venture there and find a beauty there that she can call her own. “When you go up there, it doesn’t feel like a cliché,” she said. “It’s very honest. It’s my way of going there and then thinking about how you imagine it for now.”