NEW YORK – Sarah Burton brought the house of Alexander McQueen to town for the first time in 23 years with a runway show staged Tuesday night amid huge piles of wood chips arranged in a barren Brooklyn warehouse.
Mycelium, the buzzy mushroom alternative to leather, was on Burton’s mind as a theme, and sewn or woven into some of her autumn-winter looks. But none of it was used to make the clothes. The successor to Lee Alexander McQueen told journalists after the show that she’s still experimenting with sustainable mushroom leather and other alternatives, sticking to the real thing for now.
Burton opened with an asymmetrical bustier dress in black leather, interspersing other black looks with pops of neon yellow, green, red, orange and blue. There were white double-breasted suits with a spray-paint effect in yellow and black, and another in the same vein done in red, harkening back to McQueen’s famous spring 1999 show in which model Shalom Harlow’s dress was adorned with paint dispensed from moving robots.
One of Burton’s models walked in a multicolored knit sweater with a huge yellow mushroom on the front. A one-shouldered dress included crystals, silver beads and pearl oyster mushroom embroidery on an invisible tulle base. Burton’s psychedelic state of mind carried into other looks as well, including a dress in black tulle with bright red and luminous orange crystal beading and sequin embroidery.
What does any of that have to do with New York?
Burton said she wanted to capture the vibrancy and character of the city’s “huge personality” in her dresses, trousers and trench coats, with each piece having its own “individual character.” Some were sharply tailored (McQueen got his start on London’s Savile Row). Others were carefully draped or made of cut lace, another nod to a past collection done by McQueen, who committed suicide in 2010.
Still more of Burton’s pieces were deconstructed in knits, wool and zipper-heavy black leather.
“America and New York have always been so much a part of McQueen and it’s been incredibly supportive to us as a house,” she said. “It’s great to sort of honor that and to come and show in New York. It’s an amazing place.”
As for mycelium, Burton was inspired by the bright colors of actual mushrooms she was looking at one day. Mycelium is the primary “plant” portion of a mushroom comprised of thousands of delicate, interwoven filaments with cells that offer an immune response for the fungi.
The collection, she said in her show notes, was inspired by the idea of community, that mycelium specifically and nature overall is “a community that is far, far older than we are.”
Backstage, Burton added that she really loves “the way that the trees talk to each other and they sort of heal each other.” Given two years of pandemic, she said, “that seems more important than ever” to the humans who walk among them. Those humans included Letitia Wright among her guests on the front row.
Burton said 85% of the collection was made of sustainable and recycled fabric. The wood chips used to create her stark set came from already fallen trees and will be sent to a farm for use by an artist. As for leather alternatives, she said the house may one day be leather free.
“Yes, I’m sure at some point,” Burton said. “We’re trying to find other ways.”
So does Burton’s mushroom-obsessed collection have anything to do with a little microdosing on her part?
“Not at the moment,” she laughed. “I probably need to.”
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