The floor of the Salle Wagram still bears the marks of the track that was laid out for Alexander McQueen's show in October 2003, the one that re-created the last-man-standing dance marathon from They Shoot Horses, Don't They?. That particular presentation found savage beauty in darkness and despair. Quintessential McQueen, in other words. But today, Sarah Burton well and truly laid those old ghosts to rest with a show that celebrated, in her words, "a beautiful future, positivity, optimism."
Burton described shapes and patterns that would organically "explode" as the show reeled on. So the first short, shaped skirts were "pods," initially in graphic jacquards, with decoration embedded in the fabric. Then they began to open out, first into cherry blossoms (maybe it was that Japanese connotation that triggered visions of a manga army with the models' uniform white wigs, sci-fi visors, and Rollerball booties), next into "doilies" of laser-cut ponyskin mounted on leather, and finally fur pompoms. Then the pods exploded, like puffballs, into extravagantly shaggy shapes in goat fur, ostrich feather, or Mongolian lamb, their shivering undulation evoking another organic association: anemones swaying in the tide.
"The future's usually shown as stark and cold," said Burton. "I wanted lightness, the sense that the dresses were hovering." One tiered dress, sprinkled with "dandelions" that looked like they were floating on air, had 80 godets, according to the woman who sewed it. The number of dandelions, she had totally lost count of. There were probably a dozen other such stats, underscoring how obsessive Burton's remarkable vision is (a quality she shares with her late mentor). Backstage before the show, nine people surrounded a huge froth of deep pink organza, hand-massaging its multilayers to bring them to life. The dress itself stood to silent attention, like an object of cultish worship—the cult being, of course, beauty.
The show's progression from pure white to the grandest possible finale of red and black felt like a journey from innocence to experience. Burton's own story, in other words. "I pushed myself more," she acknowledged. "It has to move forward." Even those in the audience who queried the absence of anything approaching clothes for the everyday surrendered to the forward movement of the stunning technique. As for pushing herself, Burton has tapped a vein of absolute magic. Its spell is irresistible.