As a brand, Alexander McQueen is no stranger to the New York City fashion scene. Under founder Lee McQueen, it held two runways here: Dante in 1996 and Eye in 1999. (The latter you may remember best for the moment when McQueen tugged his pants down at the end of the catwalk to reveal American flag boxers, one of the many now-iconic images of the late designer.) But that was over two decades ago, and much has changed since then — not just within McQueen, or even the fashion industry, but for the world at large.
The most recent earth-changing event has been, of course, the Covid-19 crisis, which got current creative director Sarah Burton thinking about the idea of community for Fall 2022, a collection which brought the brand back to NYC on Tuesday evening.
"We exist as single, individual entities on one level, but we are far more powerful connected to each other, to our families, to our friends, to our community," she writes in the show notes. "Given everything that has happened over the past two years, that seems more important than ever. As a community, we are infinitely more able to restore, reinvent, rejuvenate — heal."
More specifically, Burton cites mycelium, a fungus found in many environments which has also recently been harnessed as a leather alternative. (Not, it would seem, in this particular collection, but the possibility is out there.) She's inspired "by the reality of nature as a community that is far, far older than we are."
Between the show notes and the giant piles of fragrant mulch which made up the set (reportedly due to be donated after), one might expect a collection packed with soft hues and gentle lines. Instead, Burton went almost the opposite direction: The base color for Fall 2022 is black, popped against plenty of neons in riotous shades of green, orange and yellow. The focus tilts just barely towards daywear, with plenty of pieces that build on the fundamental shapes of leather jackets and suiting. Sometimes, that takes the form of a dress, as is the case for a red leather number towards the middle of the show, and others, in overcoats and jumpsuits.
One look in particular feels like a call back to another of McQueen's most famous runway moments: Shalom Harlow in a white dress, standing on a rotating platform while car painting robots violently sprayed her down with yellow and black paints to close out the Spring 1999 show. This time, the garment is a sharply-tailored suit, paired with razor-sharp heels and oversized sunglasses — a woman reclaiming her power.
The evening options are more statement-making, whether it's an explosion of a ruffle at the bust or a dripping line of beaded fringe at a skirt. Kaia Gerber walked in a minidress almost entirely embellished with crystals — something of a McQueen signature at this point — with matching pumps, which had a movement that made the material feel almost alive.
The biggest change for McQueen since it was last in New York, though, may just be how subtle it's become in its designs. Burton seems much more interested in making the kinds of clothes customers want to wear on an everyday basis than in the kinds of show-stopping, cover-dominating looks that make runways feel special. There's nothing wrong with either approach — in fact, combined with her thoughtful casting, it's refreshing to see Burton's more down-to-earth vision of what fashion can be — but it's hard not to wish there were a few more jaw-dropping moments in there, too.
See the complete Alexander McQueen Fall 2022 show in the gallery below: