Style & Grooming

Sarah Burton on Her Latest Collection for Alexander McQueen

The designer talks Susannah Frankel about her S/S18 offering which takes its inspiration from pioneers and explorers

  • TextSusannah Frankel
  • PhotographyAlexey Blagutin

“I was thinking of pioneers, explorers, going back to the elements and a sense of belonging to the world and to nature,” says Sarah Burton of her latest menswear collection. Such things are relative. While there was certainly an earthliness to the clothes – the elaborate silk jacquards were reversed, meaning their precious finish was worn close to the skin and, on the outside, silk threads hovered above the surfaces of coats and jackets allowing the world to see the delicacy of their construction. But this was far from mundane. Here too was signature tailoring. It was almost puritanical in the first place – imagine modern missionaries in neat, black double-breasted jackets and pants with a broad leather military stripe which harked back to the current McQueen womenswear collection and, throughout, it was clear that the relationship between the McQueen woman and man was growing closer.

With that in mind, the heritage of the house loomed large. Coats and more suiting came in patch-worked Prince of Wales check in contrasting scales or in four different weights of camel. It was as if clothing had worn out over the years and been pieced back together: preserved. Timeless. Leather, likewise, was washed – weathered. Our hero had clearly battled the elements in faded blood red double-faced and bonded skin that looked suitably dapper despite any wear and tear. He’s that kind of person. That same material, this time in ivory, saw a new take on the bib-fronted man’s evening shirt. Clothing as protection perhaps.

Also referencing a sense of utility was raw selvedge denim – a jumpsuit, wide-legged pants – over-stitched with contour maps and specimen sketches drawn from explorers’ notebooks, Burton explained. Knitwear, meanwhile: deconstructed Guernsey sweaters, Fair Isle inset with lace and laddered vests with edges frayed – was all as warm as it was wonderful.

If our hero, in this instance, is certainly an outdoors type – leather trompe l'oeil puffer jackets, jackets and waistcoats in soft calfskin worn with quilted silk trousers tied at the waist with bright red mountain climbing rope – he is still an unashamed romantic.

Fragments of Rudyard Kipling’s lovely 1898 poem, The Explorer, were printed and embroidered across silk shirting and cotton poplin. “Till the snow ran out in flowers, and the flowers turn to aloes / And the aloes sprung to thickets and a brimming stream ran by / But the thickets dwined to thorn-scrub, and the water turned to shallows / And I dropped again on deserts – blasted earth, and blasting sky…”