From those early heretical spectacles in deconsecrated churches, religiosity has always been a McQueen signature, but Sarah Burton added extraordinary new layers with her pre-fall collection for the label. For anyone not versed in the intricacies of Anglican worship, all one needed to know was that Burton wanted to evoke the humility and purity of low-church Anglicanism, rather than its incense-and-ritual high-church counterpart. Hence, the dusty, frayed quality of a bonded velvet coat-dress, whose silhouette recalled the cassock of a humble parish priest. Or the penitential quality of a pintucked shirtdress in plain white cotton. Or even the way that a white capelet laid over a black velvet column looked like a nun's wimple. And the big Puritan buckles on the footwear were perfectly suited to Pilgrim mothers.
Even in McQueen terms, the scenario was arcane to the nth. It was complicated further by looks that conveyed a muted opulence. The best examples: the black velvet dress with a keyhole neckline and cuffs outlined in a stiff white ruff of organza, and another gown, also black, with huge sweeping wings of red velvet (positively demonic, that one). True, there was still a rigorous purity to the actual line of the clothes, but they were more suggestive of aristocratic pride than humble devotion. Like the panniered gown in communion lace that came draped in a cape covered with arabesques of piping that were almost rococo—innocence and decadence in a single outfit.
The clothes had a monumental quality—long, lean, architectural—as unyielding as classic Balenciaga, another designer who was much inspired by priestly garments. Majestic they may have been, but there was something chilly and slightly forbidding about them. Still, the collection was many times bigger than the images you see here, so rest assured that Burton managed to transmute the grandeur into something infinitely more wearable at the more commercial end of McQueen's pre-fall spectrum.