The mood boards in the McQueen studio are such tattletales. The ones for Spring 2013's menswear, for instance, had pictures of Marc Bolan, Lucian Freud, Picasso, and William Powell, and a huge amount of space devoted to the German conductor Herbert von Karajan. "Male vanity," said Sarah Burton. Or did she mean "vain men"? There is a difference, after all.

But where difference was, surprisingly, less significant was in the relationship between McQueen's menswear and its women's Resort collection. Burton and her team's pursuit of a world of extreme beauty trailed effortlessly from one to the other. Motifs that had already been seen in Resort reappeared here: the cicada wing pattern on a trench in black and white, or a blouson in gold; the Art Deco dragonflies winging across a tuxedo; the bullion dot embroidery on a pale silver suit and matching coat; the patchworked gold jacquard suit, as dense and lavish as the surface of a painting by Gustav Klimt.

The designer mentioned Dorian Gray and Visconti's Death in Venice as reference points. The mood of a decadent old Europe was captured in a silk-cotton jacquard based on the bathroom tiles of a grand hotel. There was also a jacquard inspired by the etching on the glass you might find in that same bathroom, and a pattern lifted from a tablecloth in that same hotel.

But Burton was keen to point out that such historical references hardly did the collection full justice. "We wanted to make this collection more graphic," she said. "More real." To that end, there was a new, more relaxed feel in the tailoring. And it felt like there was less of the character-driven theatrics that have always powered McQueen's menswear. A mac in a flesh-toned leather felt almost…normal…in this context. But there was ultimately no getting round the heritage. A mac took its shape from a military frock coat. The white evening jacket with its black silk lapel that is the latest flowering of McQueen's collaboration with the Savile Row tailor Huntsman was lined in kimono silk. "Reality" for McQueen is still a world of private, indulgent pleasure.