PARIS, France — As ever, it was history that was the spine of Sarah Burton’s new collection for Alexander McQueen. Protestant Huguenot refugees, fleeing Catholic persecution in France, arrived in London in the late 17thcentury and settled in the East End, where they established the city’s garment industry. They also planted small gardens with seeds they brought with them from home.
Pain touched with lyricism, coloured with resilience — could there be a better subject for McQueen? Burton did it full justice with long, sinuous silk dresses that were tattered but proud. A tunic of degradé silver embroidery over black pants had a forlorn splendor. And Huguenot gardens blossomed across full-skirted silk taffeta.
The challenge with such historicism is to make it relevant for the present, and that is where Burton — and, indeed, Lee himself — occasionally hit a wall in the past. But this particular moment in time demands the kind of transportive beauty this collection was able to offer. You could maybe lay your fingertip on a peculiar pulse of modernity — fabulously embroidered denims, a floor-length crocheted tank dress, and the little dresses, black or white, created from tiers of ruffles — but it has always been the romance of McQueen that sucks you in. Burton roughened it with a frayed edge and weighted it with chain harnesses laden with charms and Huguenot crosses. Still, the shadowy essence of the collection lingered in a dress of tattered lace insinuating itself down the body until it swelled into undulating waves of chiffon. Heart, be still.