Review: Alexander McQueen SS19

The Alexander McQueen SS19 collection is an arresting, complex tapestry of Medieval iconography and Victorian mourning tradition, with the haunting presence of Ophelia echoing through the silhouette of the modern woman.

Brand director Sarah Burton described the collection as the “journey of women and the journey of a woman”. The show opens against a pale desert landscape, interrupted by giant rocky boulders partially covered in worn, colourful posters on a floor of white gravel. Burton said the inspiration for the collection centred around rites of passage, the intertwining of different religious and folkloric traditions, the relationship between the human and the natural. This spirit of connecting oppositional forces continues throughout the collection, which shows Burton’s mastery of uniting materials as different as sheer, cream silk and black corseted leather into the fantastical creations so characteristic of the McQueen house.

The collection is instantly characterised by exaggerated, Victorian pleated sleeves in embroidered mesh silk. The opening piece – a cream, mesh embroidered dress with an asymmetric hem, belted in black leather which cascades down the right side - flirts on the boundary between paper-like fragility and blacksmith’s leather apron, setting the tone for the collection focus on the relationship between strength and weakness, death and resurrection.

The fourth look is full black leather, high-necked studded jacket with exaggerated rising shoulders and low sitting trousers. The cut of the trousers echoes the infamous silhouette of Alexander McQueen’s ‘Bumster’ trousers which shocked the fashion world in the ‘90s, the upper line sitting on the lowest part of the hips. McQueen once said he always found the lower part of the spine to be “the most erotic part of anyone’s body, man or woman”. In a look that references at once the ballooning sleeves of a gown, the back lining of a corset with harsh, traditionally masculine material, Burton creates a tone of eroticism from a refusal to accept a solely masculine or feminine look.

A central piece is a pleated wedding gown in ivory crepe de chine, alive with blushes of grey and mottled cream, with a traditional Edwardian portrait neckline. The most subtle but expert tailoring along the hips echoes the silhouette of the eighteenth-century Marie Antoinette; the hips are gently extended, recalling the traditional Pannier structure, but slimmed down for the modern woman. Burton was inspired by Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, using her portraits of women on the SS19 mood board, and she became the inspiration for the Ophelia print featured on this dress. There is a special emphasis on symmetry, the digital print of the dress being created from images of wild peonies and roses as well as vintage material.

The woman’s suit is an integral, recurring piece in the collection. Burton redefines the silhouette, making a grey pinstripe suit which cut outs the back, opening over the hip between the trouser line, laced around the edges with chains. Burton’s modern woman is dramatic, cutting, but also a descendent of the power suit; the women of the ‘80s, back with a vengeance laced in chains.

Burton’s accompanying description mentions creations of “dark Ophelia silks, kept in a trousseau, folded with pressed flowers”. A central piece is a crinoline dress, the traditional garment structure of the nineteenth. century, which is covered in flowers almost maddeningly blooming all at once. The dress is covered in embroidered red poppies, roses and purple petals. The poppy becomes a recurring visual in the collection, a traditional symbol of death and loss, in a collection Burton said was as much about birth as about mourning. The hoop is barely visible; the female body becomes a garden in full summer, a multitude of different colours and floral bodies falling and growing upwards.

Burton shows her mastery in experimentation with mesh. Sheer fabric features to different degrees of visibility throughout the collection, accumulating in a stunning grey mesh dress – low-necked, slashed through in parallel lines of black which cross at the neck and part in upside down ‘V’ shapes along the body. Burton reimagines the silhouette – she squares it off, makes it grid-like, alluding to the armoury and harsh lines of Medieval armoury. The modern McQueen woman is both natural and man-made, a warrior and a goddess.

In walks a chiffon, structured dress, recalling the silhouette of a mermaid tail, on fire with the colours of a Tahitian sunset – glimpses of orange, like the edges of a flame, rise through the middle section, while the sides rush out in short sections of pleated sheer that bring the dress alive with movement. Burton slashes the dress in two parallel curves which meet at the chest and then curve outwards, echoing the natural lines of the hips. 

The collection shows that the spirit of McQueen – innovation, experimentation, being inspired by our history but never constrained by it – continues into this year. Burton creates the opposition between flesh and fabric, a constant battle to be seen, channelling the traditional dynamic between man and the surrounding world. Her creations are embedded with memories, historical resonances, yet with a full awareness of the modern woman and her style and influences. The McQueen woman is at once natural and armoured, corseted and freed.

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StyleKate HaseldenComment