I've had amazing support from an amazing team," said Sarah Burton following her debut collection for Alexander McQueen shown in Paris last night. The 35-year-old designer was appointed creative director of that label only weeks after the death of its founder in February this year and, less than nine months on, stepped out into the spotlight to take her bows for the first time.
Burton, who joined the company while still studying fashion at Central Saint Martin's in 1996, has been working with just the same tightly-knit team that McQueen himself always trusted throughout this tremendously difficult period – and the fruits of their labours have paid off.
Here were none of the pyrotechnics and only a hint of the dark sensibility that always ensured McQueen's audience was swept away to a strangely seductive and often challenging place. Instead, Burton chose to focus her attention on the designer's more gentle side and, above all, on the creation of the most beautiful clothes.
The tailoring with which Lee Alexander McQueen made his name was in evidence but cut in layers of ivory silk it was as unashamedly romantic as it was immaculately constructed. The engineered print-and-weave of which the designer was so very proud is in safe hands also. Inspired, this time, by the anatomy of the woman who chooses to wear it and by the flora and fauna of the natural world, it was both technically and artistically perfect.
It is well-known that, while her mentor was alive, Burton was responsible for the more obviously commercial side of his business. In this instance, however, she proved herself to be master of the show-piece too. Here were curvaceous dresses moulded into an exaggerated hour-glass silhouette and covered with jewel-coloured butterflies. More were woven in everything from horsehair to lacquered raffia, ears of wheat and straw.
Among the hallmarks of the McQueen heritage was the fusion of pioneering cut, fabric and proportion with a respect for hand-craftsmanship that is second to none. With the latter in mind, garlands of black leather ivy leaves wound their way around slender limbs; a patchwork of delicate embroideries encased torsos and tiny, painstakingly applied feathers fluttered across floor-sweeping skirts.
Last week Burton, speaking from the Alexander McQueen offices in London, told the fashion trade paper Women's Wear Daily that anyone expecting the high drama of a McQueen presentation was likely to be disappointed. "I don't think [the show] will have as much angst in it. I think it will be softer," she said. Voluminous floral-print chiffon, cinched at the waist with a broad gilded belt, and dip-dyed tulle wrapped around the body in delicate pleats and folds were both testimony to that.
Neither is the theatrical nature of the McQueen blockbuster presentation on her agenda. "The spectacular show was very much Lee's territory," Burton said preferring, in this instance, to eschew any elaborate mise-en-scene in favour of a plain, raw, wooden set.
Any differences aside, and given that Burton worked alongside her mentor for 14 years, few ever doubted that she is the best person to uphold the values of his aesthetic.
Sarah Burton will never be Lee Alexander McQueen and she would never try to be. Instead, this was a hugely sensitive tribute to a man who inspired loyalty and admiration from all who were close to him and who look set to remain committed to the protection of his legacy for years to come.