When the news broke two weeks ago that Sarah Burton, who took over as creative director at Alexander McQueen less than four months after his passing, and who had worked at the house for 26 years, would be stepping down, there was a collective moment of grief felt throughout the industry. Here was someone directly tied to the history and legacy of one of our greatest modern designers, who in the last 12 years had established her own visual language at the label, softer perhaps, but no less fierce and unafraid of the new, just like Lee had. It’s truly the end of an era.
And so McQueen’s spring 2024 show which will take place in Paris tonight, will be Sarah Burton’s last. In her time at the helm, McQueen became known for—among other things—being a go-to red carpet label for a variety of very cool actors, models, and musicians (and of course, there’s the small matter of Burton being responsible for the wedding dress worn by Kate Middleton, Princess of Wales, when she married Prince William in 2011; an indelible image that lives on in the memory of millions of people around the world).
We asked a few of our favorite McQueen-wearers to write a few words about what Burton and her creations have meant to them. Their responses highlight not only Burton’s genius and creativity, but her sense of family, friendship, and wicked sense of humor. They paint a picture of a woman that is truly one in a million.
Sarah and I first met 15 years ago when she came to see a play I was doing at the Royal Court Theatre. She had such an instant, open warmth and brilliant, self deprecating sense of humour that it was impossible not to adore this human being. It was at the Met Ball, a few years later while Hannah and I were still quite early on in our relationship that our friendship with Sarah was cemented. The Met is the most extraordinary evening and at moments it can be completely overwhelming and bonkers- its almost too much for any human being to take in- but that evening Sarah, Hannah and I sat in a corner for almost the entire thing, eyes on stalks and putting the world to rights. We laughed until our stomachs hurt. I’ll never forget it. She is so staggeringly talented and yet wears that genius so lightly. Her self deprecation belies her utter and unique brilliance.
Soon after Hannah and I were engaged, we called Sarah and asked her if there was any chance that she would consider designing Hannah’s wedding dress. Her response was instant and impassioned, which was everything you dream of when getting married. I didn’t see the dress beforehand, of course but, my god I will never forget the moment I first saw Hannah. There was a fire pit outside the church, and as she walked in, it was like a pre-Raphaelite vision. I was dressed in a very, very beautiful McQueen morning suit, but Hannah wore this utterly dumbfounding creation interwoven with intricate embroidery. The image of her in that dress will forever be etched on my retina and I feel so grateful to our brilliant friend for creating that for us.
Over the years, we’ve been lucky enough to get to know the whole team at McQueen. Usually we are meant to go for a fitting but end up having to be turfed out at the end of the day. It is a place you never want to leave and that is because of the people. It’s a testament to Sarah’s brilliance both as a designer and as a person that she has assembled this unique and wonderful loyal team- Judy, Nicki, Harley and Nawfal, the list goes on- people we have known from those early days when we would first venture into their old Clerkenwell offices. The word family is bandied around a lot but in Sarah’s McQueen it truly does feel like that.
One of the unexpected joys of my job is that I get to wear beautiful things made by brilliant people, but the process of it can, at times, be a bit unnerving. Red carpets are theatre, but they’re also odd spaces; you’re standing in front of a barrage of photographers just… literally standing there with zilch to do but stand. It’s a very odd interaction. And never gets less odd. The thing that Sarah does, certainly for me—and I know for Hannah as well—is to create clothes that make you feel stunningly elegant but they also have a sense of armour about them. You feel emboldened wearing them. There’s a deeply woven classicism yet anarchic spirit in them, and you always feel ready to take on the world.