Sarah Burton has long been inspired by flora, as evidenced by her work at Alexander McQueen and especially her most recent collections for the house. But for Spring 2022, she did something a little different: Instead of looking at what grows from the Earth, she looked up.
"I am interested in immersing myself in the environment in which we live and work, in London and in the elements as we experience them each day," Burton wrote in the show notes. "We moved from water — and the mud on the banks of the Thames — to the sky and the ever-changing, all-encompassing magnificence that represents."
The marquee prints in this collection, she explained, are based on photographs the Alexander McQueen team took from the rooftop of the brand's studio, where the London cityscape — "from Saint Paul's Cathedral to the London Eye" — is on full display: "We watched the weather and captured the formation and coloration of clouds from daybreak to nightfall and documented changing patterns, from clear blue skies to more turbulent ones."
That experience pushed Burton towards another themed explored in Spring 2022. "I love the idea of the McQueen woman being a storm chaser," she wrote, "of the qualities of storm chasing uniting the passionately individual community of characters wearing the clothes... Storm chasing is not only about the beauty of the views, but also a sense of mystery and excitement — about embracing the fact that we can't ever be sure of what might happen next. To give up control and be directly in touch with the unpredictable is to be part of nature, to see and feel it at its most intense — to be at one with a world that is bigger and more powerful than we are."
The collection marks not only a return to fashion shows for Alexander McQueen, but also a homecoming to London. (In the Before Times, the brand typically showed as part of Paris Fashion Week.) Outside of the fashion week schedule, Burton has the industry's full attention on the East London rooftop where the event took place.
Ahead of the brand's return to the runway, Burton spoke with Business of Fashion's Tim Blanks about how designing over the pandemic — and the absence of fashion shows — shaped the way she creates now. "Over the last year, I'd ask, 'How does it move on the body? Is it labored?' If it's labored, I don't need it, let's get rid of it," she said. "Maybe it's beautiful, maybe it could sit on a stand on a mannequin and look amazing somewhere in a museum. But you want someone to wear it and feel beautiful, and that's my job."
Without the pressure of the runway, she continued, "you could study that a bit more and not worry so much about how it was going to look on a catwalk. It was more, 'How does it look in this room on that woman over there?' That's all that really mattered at that point. And actually, that freed up some of the construction, the way that the pieces move. It gave us a lightness."
That's not to say we're losing Alexander McQueen's beloved tailoring and fit — the opening look was a double-breasted black wool coat with a cloud bustle and poly faille sleeves — it's just that Burton is more aware of how the clothes exist outside of the context of fashion week. There's a consideration for the how the customer might move in the collection (full-skirted minis and midi dresses with boots, belted trench coats with balloon sleeves, gowns cut to ankle length), and, seemingly, lots of optimism that we'll be leaving the house more on 2022, with an emphasis on elegant outerwear and bold suiting. Though, there are remnants of stay-at-home dressing, like a sweatshirt top, cropped and embellished with crystal raindrop embroidery, styled with a sheer, gauzy "exploded skeletal skirt" and a series of cotton jersey dresses souped up with sequin shard rain embroidery.
See the full Alexander McQueen Spring 2022 collection in the gallery, below.