In a season when classic tailoring has been a major storyline, Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton blew everyone out of the water.
Returning to the Paris runway after a three-year absence, Burton proved she is the rare designer who can bring theatricality to suiting.
With a runway set that put the audience inside a zoetrope, projections of the clothes moving all around them, and the musical note soundtrack of the fall 1998 “Joan of Arc” collection playing in reverse, Burton returned to the roots and rigor of McQueen.
“Anatomy, anatomy of tailoring, anatomy of clothing…where he started on Savile Row, revisiting construction of garments then tearing it apart and subverting it and turning it upside on its head,” Burton said backstage of her process.
Wearing a black peaked corset jumpsuit, Naomi Campbell led the charge of bold-shouldered, precision-cut pinstripe suits, white shirts and ties on one of the most diverse casts of the season.
Here was the discipline and uniform-like appeal that’s been in the fashion conversation. But there was also an undercurrent of eroticism to the Helmut Newton-esque slicked back hair and gender play, and the provocative orchids, with petals placed just so on the body, as on a gorgeous black faille trenchcoat with dramatic sleeves, for example.
Blazers were sculpted into high-slit bustier dresses, lapels twisting around the neckline and flap pockets accenting the hips. Or they were turned upside down, contoured to the waist, with vents falling softly over the shoulders and slashed sleeves hanging, worn over long, lean trousers.
Men’s corsets and waist-nipping jackets, some with orchid prints or a shock of blood red embroidery, were equally sensual over pleated, ‘40s-feeling trousers.
The focus on the body led Burton to look at Leonardo da Vinci anatomy drawings, which translated into extraordinary dresses, one in a muscular-looking black knit, another crafted from skeletal-looking cream cables with built-out shoulders, waist cutouts and a unraveling skirt.
She achieved similar effect on gowns using crystals and bugle beads hugging the body, then dissolving to fringe skirts. The showstopper was in silver with an orchid-shaped bodice.
The evening tailoring was what looked really fresh, as classic as the concept is. It would be a real power move to rule next week’s Oscars events and red carpets in a tuxedo expertly slashed at the midriff and accessorized with an overgrown silver orchid necklace, or a slashed tuxedo jumpsuit with swaggering crystal epaulettes.
Why go back to sartorialism now, when COVID-19 made us feel like we might never see it again?
“It feels smart in the times we live in; you want to feel put together and strong against such chaos,” Burton said.
There’s security in that.