See enough shows in a season and you'll likely tire of the same old faces trooping up and down the catwalks with ticktock regularity. They're walking coat hangers. But every so often, there's a show where the model casting adds so much to the mood of the collection that you're left wondering why more designers don't step outside the box of the mannequins of the moment. It happened with Alexander McQueen tonight. The face of each model was such a complement to the clothes he was wearing that the English quintessence of the collection was strikingly reinforced. For all anyone knew, the guys might have been from Kentucky or Kazakhstan, but dressed in McQueen, they were rough trade for Oscar Wilde, or stiff-upper-lippers in a Powell and Pressburger celluloid classic from the second World War, or military cadets from the Napoleonic Wars. The genetic blessing of bone structure and Guido Palau's spic-and-span public schoolboy hair had something to do with the effect, but ultimately, it was Sarah Burton's clothes that enabled the models to communicate a sweep of English man style.

Burton projects McQueen's historicism and romanticism with an almost scary effortlessness, but she brought her own irreverent openness to the collection, the track pants paired with oversize military-influenced outerwear being one example. There was camp drama in those coats—and in the big plaid poncho. If that felt like genuine McQueen-iness, the designer elsewhere dialed down the drama for some sterling tailoring. One jacket was as soft as a cardigan, another had a firm, squared shoulder, still another was peaked, pagodalike. Burton has her mentor's eye for precision, and for print, too—there were engineered jacquards that duplicated the sheen of a regimental breastplate. To some eyes, they also suggested celestial clouds, which is scarcely an association one would care to dismiss.