I usually don’t mind for Sarah Burton‘s Alexander McQueen. But this season, I felt a spark about her work. The collection opened with the sound of birdsong and echoing children’s voices. Then, the McQueen warrior women marched relentlessly on, in sharply tailored frock coats and slim-leg pantsuits gripped by belts jangled with jewels that included tiny silver hip flasks and metal-bound notebooks. For the closing, a finale of fairy-tale evening dresses of frothing net and embroidery suggestive of medieval folk tales. “What do you talk about in a time when there’s so much noise?” queried Burton during a press talk. “I wanted this collection to be really grounded, bold, and heroic,” she answered herself. “I feel like you need to be heroic.” Burton’s poetic adventure for autumn-winter 2020 began with a visit to Wales, the storied Celtic land of myths and creativity. At St. Fagans National Museum of History in the capital city of Cardiff, the first thing that caught her eye was the Wrexham Tailor’s Quilt, fashioned at night over a 10-year period from 1842 by a tailor using recycled scraps of the woolen cloths he had used to craft the uniforms he made by day. With its scenes from the Bible and allusions to the Industrial Revolution that was threatening the very idea of handcraft at the time, it is a powerful object, “a narrative of someone’s life,” as Burton said. Taking her cue from this inspirational starting point, she worked on sharp-seamed, graphic tailoring that incorporated upcycled wool flannels from previous McQueen seasons woven in British mills and set in dramatic geometric blocks that suggested flags or heraldic pennants. The Victorian tailor’s startlingly contemporary imagery was reflected in prints and complex intarsia treatments. Alexander McQueen himself used antique patchworks as a source for some textile treatments in his spring 2004 “Deliverance” collection, and Burton and her team found further quilt inspiration in the collection of the dealer Jen Jones, including more examples made from scraps of traditional men’s fabrics and others in soft blush pinks also used for the elaborately stitched but unseen petticoats that Welsh women once wore to buoy up their plain, utilitarian skirts. That complex handwork was replicated in dimensional jacquard weaves used for a coat with the allure of a 1940s diva’s dressing robe, or as a deep border to counterpoint the severe tailoring of a shapely black jacket. Fabric innovations also included dégradé treatments that changed from solid to sheer (taffeta to chiffon, or dense to spiderweb fine-gauge knit), suggesting strength and fragility in one garment. The famed Welsh blankets, meanwhile, represented for Burton the idea of “protection and wrapping and caring and kindness”. The idea was powerfully suggested in a surprisingly tender 1930s photograph Burton had pinned to her inspiration board, depicting three Welsh miners in their formal Sunday-best suits, with their respective infant children held by blankets wrapped around them and improvised into papooses “so that they had their hands free to work,” as Burton pointed out. Summing up: it’s a line-up of beauty dressed in confidence and strength.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.
Helmut Lang spring-summer 1998
In her twisted elegance for spring-summer 2017, Miuccia Prada sent down a line of feather-trimmed jackets, bras and skirts. The dresses by Prada, with ostrich-feathers on the sleeves, were pure lightness, blurring the silhouttes’ minimal cut and old-fashioned opulence. “No other material stirs the imagination quite like the feather“, said the intro to Antwerp’s MoMU exhibition dedicated to plumes and feathers back in 2014. That’s quite true – for centuries, feathers were symbol of sophistication and refinement in women’s wardrobe. Valued by designers, like Sarah Burton at Alexander McQueen (and the late designer himself) or even Phoebe Philo of Céline, feathers are the quintessence of preciousness. Whether traditionally crafted by skilled artisans called plumassiers, detailed with the help of Maison Lemarié in Paris or simply turned into ethereal headpieces (Maria Grazia Chiuri’s debut haute couture collection for Dior; Helmut Lang‘s all-white feather crowns from the 90s).
Some designers choose to use feathers spontaneously, one-time, like London-based Christopher Kane. But others, like Ann Demeulemeester, feel strong affection towards feathers since childhood. The queen of Belgian fashion especially favoured dove feathers and transformed them into timeless pendants. For her first fashion show in Paris in 1992, she placed on each chair a leather string holding dove feathers. In 2000, a priest called her and asked whether she can ‘dress’ the Madonna in Saint Andrew’s church in Antwerp. The effect was a feather bustier, which ideally matched the holliness and spirituality of this place. Although Demeulemeester stepped down from her role at the brand, Sébastien Meunier succesfully continues her feather legacy. Just see his poetic autumn-winter 2017 collection for men (note the hats and shawls).
One of the biggest fashion moments connected to feathers that always hits my mind is Peter Lindbergh’s cult editorial for Harper’s Bazaar in 1993. Amber Valletta, looking like a fallen angel, wanders around New York in her white wings and white suit. Beautiful and melancholic simultaneously. Light as a feather.
Shop the look: Ann Demeulemeester bead and feather necklace.
The most important question of the year appears – which dress should you were for the New Year Eve? Go for non-chalance or simplicity this time? Be the Diana Ross of the night or a femme fatale, let’s say, like the intriguing Mata Hari? Or is the dress-code free for interpretation? Here is the subjective selection of the fantasy dresses you might wear (or dream to wear) on the 31st of December!
Dior spring-summer 1998 couture
Not long after John Galliano’s arrival at Dior, the fashion crowd discovered the designer’s famous over-the-top style – staged in Paris’ Opera Garnier, the fashion show stunned everybody with the backless gowns in Art Nouveau prints, mink coats, avant-garde hats and of course, the gold-thread embroidered Marie Antoinette ball dress. A masterpiece which impresses me until now.
Celine autumn-winter 2013
For those who enjoy comfort and effortless elegance – Phoebe Philo’s chic outing at Celine was all about modern silhouettes and flattering shapes. The outfit with a shoulder exposing top, a midi-lenght skirt and a pillow clutch might be just the right choice for a lounge party with fancy canapés.
Alaia autumn-winter 1991
“Animal magnetism” is how Azzedine Alaia described his collection back in 1991. Indeed, the leopard-print knit dress worn by Claudia Schiffer was all about Parisian sex-appeal. A sure take on a Pink Panther themed party.
Lanvin spring-summer 2016
The last collection designed by Alber Elbaz for Lanvin was all about his signature, over-sized dresses. The one above, all in burgundy and red sequins stole my heart during the fashion week. And the silk scarf, which was worn by the model in a slouchy way gave the overall effect of “my New Eve will be spent with the person I love the most” statement.
Yohji Yamamoto spring-summer 1999
When Malgosia Bela presented this parachute, white dress at Yohji Yamamoto’s show at the end of the last decade, everybody agreed – a white dress is not only worn to a wedding ceremony. I can guarantee you that if you appear in this voluminous piece at the newly opened gourmet restaurant during the New Year Eve – well, then the dinner is yours.
Rochas pre-fall 2016
A bit dramatic, yet minimal – the Rochas maxi-dress styled with a fur stole is Alessandro Dell AcQua’s perfect tip for a last-minute New-Year-new-you-look.
Gucci spring-summer 2016
Alessandro Michele can even make a track suit look brilliant for this special occasion – it’s all about a fair dose of hand-painted florals, a sheer, silk pussy-bow shirt and a pair of killer-hill stilettos. Also, there is a variety of embroidered dresses with ruffles and crotchet jumpsuits – true, these are eclectic and eccentric looks, but there is only one New Year Eve per year!
Alexander McQueen autumn-winter 2010
The aristocratic, meticulously embroidered gown worn with a scarlet red cape – and all the attention is on you. This is how a Royal-looking, custom-made queen dress should look like. I confess that when I examined McQueen’s last collection, which he had finished designing just few days before his tragic death, tears welled up in my eyes. Such a genius is sorely missed.
Haider Ackermann spring-summer 2011
If you are this type of person, who wants to show some skin to the world, then please, please, please – don’t take a Kardashian-esque Balmain dress. Go for this fabulous, yellow Haider Ackermann dress with a leg-exposing cut. I know, it looks too good to be true. But it’s even more than Insta-perfect.
Rosie Assoulin resort 2015
And of course, I cannot not take under consideration Rosie Assoulin’s bold dresses and skirts. These nutritious and fresh-like-an-orange looks from her resort 2015 look-book are flawless, and in a very #IWokeUpLikeThis manner. Not that I am the biggest fan of Beyonce – but I think the word and the hashtag of 2015 fit Rosie’s eveningwear style… on point.
So, obviously you already have a clear vision of your New Year eve outfit, don’t you?