Sarah Burton takes her final bow for Alexander McQueen with SS24

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AFTER 26 years at Alexander McQueen, Sarah Burton took her final bow with a collection marked by her unwavering vision of female anatomy.

Dedicated to women, inspired by women and envisioned by a woman, it effortlessly concluded her reign at the helm with both the values that the House was built on and her evolution of what Lee had started.

Titled Anatomy II, her show notes read: “This collection is inspired by female anatomy, Queen Elizabeth I, the blood red rose and Magdalena Abakanowicz, a transgressive and powerfully creative artist who refused ever to compromise her vision. The show is dedicated to the memory of Lee Alexander McQueen, whose wish was always to empower women, and to the passion, talent and loyalty of my team”.

This wasn’t a complicated goodbye but one defined clearly by her tenure. Joining Lee at the brand in 1997 fresh out of Central Saint Martins, she quickly found herself as head of womenswear, helping the founder carve out his ethereal yet unconventional vision of beauty through romanticism, darkness and history.

Opening with a black tailored dress with sliced shoulders, a slashed bodice and laced together on the spine, Burton gave a nod to the very first collection that Lee created for his brand – The Hunger (SS1996). Echoing the large cuts found in the dresses of his collection, she made them ever so slightly smaller bringing attention to a woman’s chest but not giving enough away to see more than a slither of skin.

The Bumster, first seen in Lee’s Taxi Driver AW94 show, also made a welcome appearance with a matching black washed peau de soie tailored frock coat with a cutaway front – very A La McQueen.

Following Lee’s death in February 2010, Burton was handed over the responsibility of taking the brand forward. Her first collection SS2011 ultimately marked a new era and one she decided to give a nod to in Look 36 with a high-neck dress made in gold Lyon lace complete with a sculpted hip and exploding petals.

Never forgetting the Britishness intertwined with McQueen, the red rose of England took centre stage. Taking a print from her campaign collaborator David Sims, she enlarged the flower onto double-layered seamless dresses, hand painted it onto leather corset pencil dresses, moulded it out of thick crochet knitwear, and even printed it across a bumster two-piece.

Most notably, the rose found itself recreated into an off-the-shoulder dress complete with petal draping in blood red to black degradé.

What has always been evident is the tailoring of the House. With Lee’s beginnings on Savile Row, the work of the atelier behind each show has always been noticeable. In fashion, craftsmanship is always spoken about but usually with regard to leatherwork.

Unlike the others, the beauty of McQueen is in the meticulous nature of the strict cuts, where precision has never faltered nor has a seam ever been seen out of place. Burton made sure her final collection put her team on a pedestal. It was almost clinical at points.

Whoever may come next their job will be bigger than anyone else’s. Burton helped Lee create Alexander McQueen and then took it forward to today – there has been no McQueen without Burton.

Her vision of womanhood was always centred around strength. She built clothes that were like armour, enriched with historic symbolism and infused with nature. It’s never been about sex appeal or glamour, she made women feel powerful with her clothes.

Emphasising the female form, celebrating our capabilities and illustrating the beauty in our darkness, Burton left us with a single commandment: to embrace and love the complexities of womanhood.

Thank you and goodbye Sarah.

by Imogen Clark


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