At last night’s Fashion Awards, Sarah Burton was recognised as the industry’s trailblazer, following in steps of Kim Jones who took away the first ever exactly a year ago. And it’s absolutely deserved – she truly has shifted the course of fashion in the 10 years she’s been behind the reigns of Alexander McQueen. Being faced with the task of taking over from a creative genius that will forever be remembered as one of the greats might have been a difficult one, but Burton did a great job at making it look easy. And in that process, she has both continued the powerful heritage of Lee and introduced a new, feminine touch that marked the next chapter of what the Alexander McQueen label stands for. A perfect example of taking a symbol from the past and reinterpreting it in her own unique way is also the focus of the latest exhibition to open on the top floor of the brand’s London flagship store on Old Bond Street. Simply titled Roses, the show is dedicated to the symbolism of flowers, rooted in the power of nature and their physical incarnation in the form of a garment.
There are two main starting points for Roses – one is a swirling Red Rose dress from the brand’s AW19 show, while the other is a corseted gown constructed out of fresh flowers, a last minute addition to the finale of Lee’s SS07 Sarabandeshow. Now reconditioned in a mix of real and fabric flowers (a few of the originals one are still attached to the piece), the masterpiece stands out for its exuberance in colour and volume. Like all of the exhibits, the two dresses are on display without a glass casing or any other protection. Poached directly from the archive and exposed directly within the retail environment, there’s a level of unadulterated intimacy with these garments. Surrounded by in-process photographs and sampling fabric swatches, each of the dresses is also accompanied with a tag detailing the collection and the season it was originally shown in.
Another important aspect of Roses is tracking references and correlations between Burton’s and McQueen’s work. A white, crystal-encrusted dress from the seminal The Girl Who Lived On A Tree AW08 collection is presented with a red bolero which, from the side, reminisces an actual rose, blown up to the size of a melon. A similar technique of elaborate ruching is seen in a black blazer with fuchsia sleeves from Burton’s AW19 collection, its volume slightly toned down but retaining the same exuberance thanks to the couture-like method of handling the satin fabric.
In addition to the dress forms and photographs, there are videos incorporated into the space in the role of adding a further insight in the behind-the-scenes processes. One follows McQueen’s head of atelier Judy Halil in a step-by-step demonstration of making the AW19 Red Rose dress. Another is set within a glass cylinder room built within the space – it’s a catwalk recording of the flower dress making its entrance on the stage at Paris Cirque d’Hiver within Sarabande. This educational format of Roses is no surprise. When it opened in January 2019 in the newly-refurbished McQueen flagship store, the top floor was intended as an interactive space sharing the history and skills of the house with guided tours available to every visitor.
As part of her SS20 show and the ongoing dedication to the exchange of ideas between generations, Sarah Burton included prints created by students from Central Saint Martins’ fashion illustration class held by Julie Verhoeven, each credited and embroidered over by staff members from all of the brand’s departments in another case of ultimate collaborative efforts. Officially open to the public since last Friday, the exhibition is of course free to visit and even includes a little souvenir visitors can take home – two different posters, each dedicated to one of the dresses that inspired the exhibition.
It doesn’t really matter if you can cut a mean dress or just enjoy wearing/ looking at one – Roses will make you stop, look and think about the effort that goes into creating some of the most beautiful garments in the world, all carrying the signature of Alexander McQueen.
by Dino Bonacic
‘Roses’ is an exhibition currently on display on the third floor of the Alexander McQueen flagship store at 27 Old Bond Street, W1S 4QE for the next six months. Photographs by Tim Beddow.