In an Emotional Show, Sarah Burton Bids Farewell to Alexander McQueen | Savoir Flair
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In an Emotional Show, Sarah Burton Bids Farewell to Alexander McQueen
by Grace Gordon 5-minute read October 1, 2023

At Alexander McQueen, the bloodline has ended. 

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For the last 26 years, Sarah Burton, who began working alongside Lee in the earliest days of the house, has been an unfailing guardian of McQueen’s creative genius. While she isn’t related to McQueen by blood, her spiritual link to him as his right hand — and then as his successor — forges a familial bond.

Thirteen years of her tenure were spent at the helm, inking a new path forward while preserving the “savage beauty” of his designs. Although she tended to render his ideas in softer, more mutable forms, she kept ferocity and protection at the heart of all of her work. McQueen worshipped women. He wanted to give them armor. Burton honored this wish, but still imprinted her own desires onto the designs. It wasn’t easy. 


McQueen forged his own path, bedeviling the money-men who sought to profit off of his genius. It was, in fact, his wish that the house not continue after his death. However, the appointment of Burton made perfect sense. Who else could have kept his legacy alive in such a respectful manner? However, compromises had to be made. Products had to move. This is where we saw the introduction of comfortable sneakers, fabulous fashion jewelry, and other entry-point items that made Alexander McQueen a household name. For those invested in the ever-evolving business of fashion and its ever-revolving door of celebrity designers, the question of who will replace Burton is enough to keep one up at night. Is this the end of an era? Or the beginning of something better?


For her emotional final collection, Burton focused on her greatest hits, those that are now inextricably linked to the house’s greater body of work. While flowers have long had a place in McQueen’s designs (the Sarabande dress and the Tudor rose sleeve of Look 39 from Fall/Winter 2008 come instantly to mind), it is Burton that transformed them into a house signature. Ample research trips to gardens and countless hours spent with the design team went into rendering the 3D petals of her collections, most notably seen on the jaw-dropped red rose dress that walked the finale of Fall/Winter 2019. Even the newly introduced Seal bag bears a dissected Tudor rose motif. This time, they came printed onto silky gowns until, by Look 42, they exploded in dimensionality. It was one of her finest gowns ever.


The collection was also filled with her sharply tailored suits, coats decorated with a brushstroke of fringe, molded bustier tops, and lace bodysuits — each look was more special than the last. A few stand-out pieces included a red shaggy one-shoulder dress that moved beautifully, a molded denim jacket with rigid lace-up sleeves, an eye-popping ivory knit piece that was articulated to resemble a human skeleton, and a metallic silver dress (worn by Naomi Campbell) whose construction defies description. As Campbell stalked the runway, she lifted a hand to wipe away a tear. She had once been a regular on Lee’s catwalk, too. And then out came Sarah to a thunderous standing ovation, hugging her nearest and dearest. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.


When a real creative has the reigns of a fashion house — someone who isn’t always “safe” or commercially minded or wrapped up in profit-making — it is a chance for the rest of us to dream. It is a respite from the cruel reality of the industry. It is a safe space for fantasy. I think it is only with time that we will truly understand how influential she has been. It is hard to predict what the future holds now for Alexander McQueen. I just hope that it finds someone worthy of the mantle. 

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I THINK it is only with time that we will TRULY understand how influential she has been. 

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