McQ Alexander McQueen
February 19, 2012 London
Backstage, after the show, the leaves question was posed to Alexander McQueen's creative director, Sarah Burton. She asked around, and got back the following answer: The leaves came from trees.
Sometimes the answer to a seemingly knotty question is staring you right in the face. So it is with McQ, a brand that has coexisted uneasily with Alexander McQueen since its launch not quite six years ago. Tonight, showing McQ on the catwalk for the first time ever, Burton resolved everything that had been vexing about it: As she explained, the way to make McQ work was to start with the assumption that clothes should be beautiful, at any price. The clothes on the leafy runway were indeed beautiful; Burton shook out the key elements of the McQueen aesthetic—the romance, the dark glamour, the mind-blowing tailoring—and, rather than dumbing them down, expressed them in an accessible way. The showstoppers were the nipped-waist evening dresses, appliquéd with multicolor flowers and floating on a sea of tulle, but even the simplest pieces were refined in their construction and felt luxe in their details. To wit, in the collection's group of military-inspired menswear, a Persian lamb collar on a trench gave the coat a sense of specificity and richness, while the battered knit of an army crewneck provided the sweater with that McQueen grace note, a sense of time.
Unsurprisingly, the women's looks were more fanciful. The show started on a note of plainness, with felted wool outerwear in blocked combinations of tan and hunter green. But the drama in the womenswear amped up quickly, with heavily embroidered sculpted skirts and coats giving on to bustier-chested evening dresses topped with gothic black lace. Even the outerwear silhouettes became more vivid: One excellent look was the precisely tailored coat in Black Watch plaid with its dramatic flare. Finally, the last look appeared: a New Look-style dress in white, which nearly matched the pallor of the model wearing it. That model was Kristen McMenamy, and she proceeded to give a little dumb play, seizing a rope from under the leaves and pulling it to lead her to the slowly illuminated forest that had been created at the back of the runway. There was a small building set amid the trees—a woodshed perhaps? Or a mausoleum?—and McMenamy followed the rope all the way into it and disappeared. Just when you were thinking this was some kind of metaphor for death, a neon light flipped on in the cabin: the Core Club. A four-on-the-floor dance beat picked up. Are they raving in heaven? A question for another day.