The most striking image of Alexander McQueen's Fall collection was the gilded, caged face. You could read a book into that, just like you could interpret McQueen's Resort collection as a release for Sarah Burton. There was something so free and organic about the clothing and accessories that it was almost as though Burton had become a lady of the canyon…Laurel Canyon, that is. Early on in the genesis of the collection, Corinne Day's photos of Kate Moss in an American Indian headdress had caught someone's eye. Carefree, vibrant youth—that was the spirit Burton sought. The fact that she managed to wire it to a classic McQueen trope like Travis Banton's hyper-waisted 1930s silhouette was a pretty accurate gauge of how effectively she has twisted the signatures she inherited.
It was actually the forties that snared Burton's imagination, particularly the clothes that working women wore while their men were at war. Collections often start somewhere like that and then career off somewhere else, and this one was no exception. Still, the little dresses in a canvas cotton with their dungaree straps and unfinished seams had a sturdy Rosie the Riveter feel. Even so, under the canvas skirt were seven layers of broderie anglaise petticoats. This will always be the strange, effortful world of McQueen, where denims are patchworked together from 11 different washes and every single crocheted, brocaded, floral-ed, butterflied, broderie anglaise-ed scrap in a patchworked evening dress has been specially created. Meaning that, for Burton, release comes one look at a time.
Oh well, never mind that, because the result let the sunshine in. When you say forties and functional, the American designer Claire McCardell springs to mind, and there were echoes: a drawstring neckline on an embossed peasant top, or a prettily bowed fichu neckline. But McCardell or no, there was a real flavor of Americana in the collection. A nubuck calfskin dress—patchworked, embossed, whipstitched—felt like the product of an artisanal studio in the bowels of the Hollywood Hills. So did the tapestry-effect trousers and crocheted keyhole gown. The suede saddlebag styled as a clutch was the perfect accessory. If this was literally a new frontier for McQueen, it was—as all frontiers should be—full of promise.