Alexander McQueen.fall.2021

It was to convey the healing powers of nature that Sarah Burton chose anemones and water as recurring motifs in her Alexander McQueen collection. This is the kind of poetry and beauty that got her through the darkness of the past year. Seeing her creations up close during an in-store appointment in Old Bond Street—one ballroom dress after another—you’d be forgiven for forgetting the pandemic ever happened.

“It feels like now is a time for healing, for breathing new life, for exploring echoes from the past to enrich our future,” Burton wrote in a statement. “More than ever, a sense of humanity, of the team working together with a single aim—to make something beautiful, something meaningful—feels both precious and important.”

She had crushed up photographs of anemones, photographed them again, and transferred the images onto gigot-sleeve poly faille gowns worthy of Empress Sisi. Certainly, the virus has done little to quench the savoir faire thirst of the world’s couture clients, but Burton’s otherworldly dresses felt like more than a mere reminder that this appetite still exists. It was a big, blown-up anemone-adorned message that no virus gets in the way of this dressmaker’s desires.

Captured romantically by Paolo Roversi, the regal volumes evolved into the hybrids Burton has been exercising for some time now. Glamorously structured denim dresses were spliced with woolen peacoats, a herringbone suit hooked up with the majestic sleeves of a bomber jacket, and the spirit of biker jackets possessed the bustiers of dresses and the zipped pleats of skirts. Some looks were made to look hybridized from separates, but the impact was the same.

Even a white T-shirt, the eternal casual wardrobe staple, was decked out to the nines with an asymmetrical overlay couture-ified with “trailing water lily” embroideries in metal and sequins. Styled over a trouser with a trainer—a reference to Lee McQueen’s Sarabande collection—that look demonstrated how Burton’s fineries might translate into a more practical wardrobe. Not that fashion needs to be practical, but in a time when our shopping habits have been derailed, there’s a real sense of looking to designers for clothes that fit our return to reality.

A series of lightweight knitted dresses and tailoring lightly cinched with Victorian eyelet lacing at the back leaned closer against an everyday interpretation of Burton’s grandeur, similarly grounded by the ease of stomp-y Chelsea boots and squashy leather bags. For all their ballroom splendor, her garments never looked constricting. Alongside a number of sustainable measures, that fact spoke to Burton’s reflections on a post-pandemic sensibility. Now, many of us long for the true emotional experience of seeing clothes like these on real bodies and real runways once again.

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