What are these flowers, printed? “No, no,” Sarah Burton hastened to explain as she held out the flounce on a tiny ruffled dance dress for closer inspection. “Each one is hand-painted, and you see, it’s on leather.”
Such is the extraordinary sophistication of handwork that Burton puts into her collections that its wonders are only truly read close up. The mixtures of carnations, yellow roses, peonies, and poppies, each petal expertly defined with an artist’s paintbrush, were inspired, she said, by British folk art and domestic interiors: “Wallpaper, patterns you see on canal barges.”
The leather these English vernacular florals were painted on is incredibly fine and soft, hardly leather-looking at all either. “We thought we’d treat leather in a different way, as if it were fabric,” Burton noted.
The eye-tricking capabilities of the teams behind McQueen are equally phenomenal when it comes to knitwear these days. Search as you might, you may not be able to spot the knits in this Resort collection, but that’s what the trio of white, black, and red dresses actually are. “The technology and machinery at our factory in Italy has advanced so much. What they can do now is so fine it looks like lace,” the designer explained.
Clothes like these are a very far cry from humdrum commercial fare to fill the gaps in stores between seasons. With Burton’s softening touch, they transcend the source material to become very special, nondisposable items a woman might want to keep forever. The only question mark is over how incredible pieces like these can be best understood and appreciated.
The reality of what they actually are can’t really be captured in static photography, and if they whip by at a distance on a runway, they’re difficult to see, too. Maybe McQueen should come up with some alternative ways of viewing these beautiful things.