Sarah Burton’s First McQueen Runway Show Will Be Softer, Less Theatrical

By
Photo: David Burton

Finally Gucci Group has allowed Sarah Burton to speak! She granted her first interview since becoming head designer at Alexander McQueen — replacing the label's namesake who tragically took his own life in February — to WWD. Burton worked alongside McQueen for fourteen years, having started her career with him when she was still in school at Central St. Martins. If anyone can do the job, it's her, but of course her October 5 show in Paris faces more anticipation and pressure than most people would think to envy. But she sounds as lovely, humble, and capable as one could hope for the person stepping into this job. Highlights from her interview:

The spring 2011 collection will be "softer."

“I don’t think it has to have as much angst in it. I think it will become softer. There will always be this McQueen spirit and essence. But, of course, I’m a woman so maybe more from a woman’s point of view. There’s always got to be some darkness, because otherwise you don’t appreciate what’s light. I’ve had a training in darkness, but I don’t feel that it’s necessarily a personal thing to me. I’m a bit lighter.”


She won't put on a theatrical runway show.

“That was very much Lee’s territory — the spectacular show. In that way, I can’t try and pretend to be Lee.”

Alexander McQueen was not bound to an era — or afraid of sex.

“His ideas came from everywhere. It was never about, ‘Oh let’s look at the Seventies.’…Lee was about feeling, and he was a storyteller. It has to come from within you,” she said... She rattles off the McQueen codes with ease. “Definitely tailoring, incredible dresses, embroideries, prints — and the sexiness,” she said. “A lot of designers are afraid of sex. Lee was not. It’s about a piece of clothing you put on and you know you’re wearing McQueen.”


McQueen himself was always very hands-on.

"Lee did absolutely everything: cut the patterns, chose the fabrics.…I remember him teaching me how to put a zipper in,” she recalled. “You had to know exactly how a pattern was cut, exactly how a print was laid out, or else you could never go forward.”


She believes in teamwork!

“It was like a family,” she recalled [of starting at the label in 1997], a smile spreading over her face. “It was just so inspiring. There was a real lack of hierarchy here, which I loved about Lee.… You had the freedom to be creative. To me, it’s about a team.”


Her personal style is... McQueen.

“I’ve got rooms full,” she demurred — but dresses more casually in the studio, “as I’m likely cutting hems and scrabbling on the floor,” she said with a laugh. “It’s in my blood, this place. I absolutely love it. You really have to live McQueen.”


McQueen is not an unwearable label.

“What saddens me in a way is that Lee had these incredible shows, but always under that there were amazing pieces you could wear, but somehow nobody ever believed it was wearable. There’s this myth that it’s an unwearable house, but that’s not true.”


And just to make your heart melt...

“He was such a lovely man, and his mind never switched off.… He was so important to me. You just wanted to make him happy, look after him. Although I felt that I protected him, now I feel that he protected me.”


Sarah Burton, the Woman Behind McQueen [WWD]