Alexander McQueen's Spring/Summer 2015 ready-to-wear fashion collection / AP

Pieces that looked graphic and simple were actually breathtakingly complex

A twin pair of Marc Quinn orchid sculptures dominated the spring Alexander McQueen catwalk, like great pieces of carved-out daikon radish slapped into the middle of a lacquered bento box.

They were gargantuan, even dwarfing the typically attenuated McQueen models, hiked up on platform boots with a curving calligraphic heel. And they got the point across concisely - exotic, oriental, feminine. All pointers Sarah Burton wanted you to pick up in the clothes.

Maybe Burton was juxtaposing her fashion with art to assert the difference between the two. McQueen is one label that's often lumped into that “art” category, and her last collection provoked criticism from some quarters for a degree of preciousness that pushed it beyond the realm of ready-to-wear.

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A model presents a creation for Alexander McQueen during the 2015 Spring/Summer

Fair dues: what Burton does is precious, and handworked, and intricate. She frequently allows her crafty hands to get the better of her business head. Like the point when you know you probably shouldn't festoon a whole collection in hand-made pom-poms or tuft miles of organza into something resembling goat-fur, but do it anyway. Just to prove you can - or, more poignantly, to prove that it's still possible. Burton at her best is when she pushes technique to its zenith, because she's intent on asserting that these kind of clothes can still be created even in the 21st century, and within the confines of a vast conglomerate demanding returns. There's always something beautiful in that.

It surfaced in this collection too, which on the surface was the slickest and simplest that Burton has ever created. This collection was evidently a conscious stab at something that may end up on people's backs. Leather and wool shone with the same lacquered finish as the black catwalk, silhouettes sharp, colour palette strict yet saturated - red, black, a sashimi pink, rice-paper white. There was also plenty of daywear - proper daywear, like shirt-dresses and suits with lean trousers kicking over those flares to elongate the legs like an Erte drawing. Burton is a wicked tailor, and the upwards swagger of her samurai shoulders attested to that fact.

 

That takes considerable skill, despite its simplicity. That was a recurring motif. The inset patterns that lent an oriental bent to those suits were not embroideries, nor jacquards, but tiny strips of silk woven into the actual fabric. Like drawn threadwork, only eons more complex. Burton found craftspeople in Japan who still made obis the old-fashioned way, and enlisted their skills. Snakeskin dresses looked printed, but were actually inlaid with leather marquetry, then heat-sealed.

Maybe there was a sort of double-speak in this collection - the pieces that looked graphic and simple were actually breathtakingly complex, while it was probably quite easy (comparatively) to ruffle silk chiffon into a couple of liquid evening dresses. Those were the moments when Burton let go, alongside bustling frilled dresses exploding like cherry blossom branches below the waist.

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A model presents a creation for Alexander McQueen during the 2015 Spring/Summer

The rest was supremely controlled, even sublimely at moments, like those ikebana flower arrangements that torture plants into weird and wonderful shapes. However, like those twisted blooms, you sometimes wished Burton could relax a little - let the models down off their shoes, ease up the tailoring, and do what she knew felt right, rather than what she felt others expected of her.

Still, this collection was an important rite of passage for Burton, the collection where she showed that she can impress with clothes that have a viable afterlife on a shop floor. It was also an important rite of passage, shifting from the ethereally feminine and addressing the fierce and confrontational side that is equally as vital her McQueen. Because McQueen is hers now - hers to stamp her aesthetic on, hers to take into the future.

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