#SuzyPFW: Alexander McQueen Moves To England’s Old Satanic Mills

I went home, back to where I’m from in the North of England. All my childhood memories are of growing up in these mill towns and this beautiful, wild countryside at the foot of the Pennines,” said Sarah Burton as she looked around at the Alexander McQueen collection she had created.

First and foremost, there were roses, big and fat, shaped and draped as though creating the perfect flower – and one that will not, by nature, wilt and whither. Except that there are always imperfections in the McQueen details, with floral shapes crunched into place.

That sense of nature with fluttering wings that ran through the show has been part of the McQueen oeuvre since the days of its founder. But this Sarah Burton show seemed more personal, as the designer explained the wool rollers that served as seating for the show and how she grew up as the mills closed, one by one, at the end of an era of hand workers. One photograph backstage showed a man from the mills, 40 years in the job, stretching gnarled hands towards the fabric.

“Although the mills don’t exist anymore – they were all closing when I was growing up – I wanted to go there, and take the team to show the idea of man and machine, and how you can coexist with the countryside,” the designer said. “But this collection really started with a bolt of fabric and men’s tailoring. It’s also about a hand, man and machine, and how these machines are still threaded by hand and all these needles.”

Burton could make a cockroach sound enticing. But this Autumn/Winter 2019 collection, although similar in spirit to other shows the designer has created, was slightly sharper than usual, the country elements harsher, like shoe-boots covered in needles of silvered metal. Metallic threads likewise covered an entire dress.

The masculine side stood out in the collection, especially the jackets tracing the body as though a soft wrap had frozen. All the upper parts were shaped to the body, perhaps over a flurry of frills in the skirt below. This suggestion of being trapped, rather than roaming free, is all part of the McQueen philosophy.

Despite this beauty and thoughtfulness, the show seemed to lack any passion – even an anger – that all these ‘dark satanic mills’ were closed and fabric-making had moved elsewhere, particularly to Italy. This is a subject that currently concerns young British designers, with Brexit looming. Burton seems oblivious to that anger, angst and even despair in the UK today, especially in the North of England.

But maybe she is right to stick to her world of nature and creation. From floral dresses cinched at the waist to the couture-style draping and shaping, the designer does what she does so awfully well.