The opening of Alexander McQueen’s first flagship boutique in China was the most highly anticipated event on the Beijing social calendar. It was also the first time creative director, Sarah Burton, set foot in the capital.
“I think Beijing is really the place to be. I see lots of individual style, and it’s so inspiring to see women from different age groups wearing McQueen. “Burton talks with great enthusiasm and looks chic in a fitted jacket and wide-legged trousers. Her head-to-toe black outfit contrasts with her long blonde hair and the stark white interior of the shop. Her demeanour is warm and friendly.
During the past two years, Alexander McQueen the person, the brand, the team and the house have gone through many ups and downs: The sudden demise of its founder, “the” Royal wedding gown, and Savage Beauty, the eighth most-visited exhibition in the history of Metropolitan Museum of Art. And Burton, who was Lee (Alexander) McQueen’s right hand woman for 15 years since the beginning, is the key figure in carrying forth his legacy.
“I think Beijing is really the place to be.
I see lots of individual style, and it’s so inspiring to see women from different age groups wearing McQueen”
“I remember the studio was very cold. We had to work on table top that was high up to my chin and Lee’s dog always ate my pack lunch from my bag…” Burton recalls. “I learnt everything, I mean, everything, from Lee. Of course I was afraid to take on the job, but to throw it all away? So I decided to take on the challenge and also realised that I can’t stand behind Lee’s back. I needed to face it myself. I’m very lucky to have such an amazing team; I could never have done it without them,” she says genuinely.
Although Burton has only designed three runway collections, she’s always been part of the McQueen DNA. Each of her collections was critically acclaimed, and complimented for their “feminine, beautiful and modern” style.
“It’s a myth that Alexander McQueen clothes were not wearable due to the theatrical experience at the shows. Every single piece is so well-tailored. It’s important for women to feel amazing in a McQueen piece, and there’s always an element of what I want to wear, otherwise it’s just a fantasy. I think I add a touch of softness amongst of intricate craftsmanship.
“For example, the lilac outfit in the autumn/winter collection comes in a shade that can be described as “pretty, pretty” but the attention to details makes it romantic. And McQueen is about romance,” she says.
Aside from softness, there’s also lightness to the collection. The mille-feuille dresses have a Tudor or Elizabethan regal quality, but they move with an air of ethereality.
That romantic, mythical and ethereal quality is the fashion formula that makes Alexander McQueen so special. Because of this, Burton is keen to use painstaking hand-crafted details to make each creation more precious.
“We are in an era that has an overload of fashion, so it’s important to make something that will still be cool after 10 years. People don’t come to McQueen to buy basics, particularly the Chinese customers, they really appreciate craftsmanship. In fact, in our studio in London, we have very good Chinese students that have the best techniques and who have a passion for details,” she says.
Burton credits the studio’s Chinese students for helping create the most-wanted shattered porcelain dress in the collection and points out that both cultures can learn from each other when it comes to creativity and techniques.
“It’s important that the West don’t inflict our values and tastes to China, because China’s got such a rich history. We also need China to give us something back, for example, like the lost art of using our hands. Beijing is a creative city, an exciting place for McQueen.”