The late Alexander ‘Lee’ McQueen presented one of his most famous collections ‘Highland Rape’ in 1995. The show was misinterpreted by many critics—you can see why. The show was about the English violating the Scottish, “ethnically cleaning” the British Forces in the Scottish Highlands. Ever the politico, McQueen unflinchingly issued his opinions and support for the Scottish. His strong ancestral pride was brashly portrayed to the fashion press—who, at these third minute shows, would whoop and cheer for their favourite looks; oh, how times have changed. In his Fall 2006 show, titled ‘Widows of Culloden’, McQueen built upon the Scottish references, most notably with a tartan dress. Later that year Sarah Jessica Parker, friend of McQueen’s, would wear a variation of that dress, when she accompanied him to the Met Gala; she proved the sartorial worthiness of a kilt.
Much has happened to Scotland in the eleven years that have passed since 1995. In 2014 the Scottish people voted in a independence referendum, with more than half the population voting against it. Now, in 2016, the United Kingdom has departed the European Union, Scotland and Wales in tow, in a widely-criticised decision that has shaken global affairs.
McQueen’s right hand woman, Sarah Burton, took over the label as creative director in 2011. For her Spring 2017 collection she revisited Scotland, the Shetlands, specifically. Battered with rain and wind and fog, the elements meet in the Scottish Highlands, but predictably it makes for terrific scenes. The label was shooting an advertising campaign there and Burton was spellbound. Along with her team, they explored the Highlands, sourcing a mountain of inspiration for the collection. “Unity” was the keyword.
Trotting on the carpentry made from tapestry blankets (in Scottish tradition are woven in halves, by both families of a couple to be wed), the models led a stampede of Scottish references. Tartan and punk merged, expert tailoring (ever the revisited McQueen-ism), the cosy hand-knit sweaters—we’ve probably all had one made by a family member at some point. The studded footwear came in the form of wellington boots, fit for a trudge through the craggy landscapes of the Highlands.
Emphasising the craft is one of Burton’s finest skills. She effortlessly weaves it into her collections, which isn’t surprising, seeing as it’s become her modus operandi at the house. The opening look consisted of a leather bustier, atop a light knit dress. There was the sharply cut, cropped jackets with embellished embroidery and flowing tassels. The sumptuous tailoring on tartan coats, belted at the waist to give the appearance of kilts—an example of styling mastery. The patchwork sweaters looked like a shared craft, passed from person to person. Her red-carpet-worthy evening gowns remain to be her best offering. In all, the collection was a union of her greatest hits.
The hardworking attitudes, inclusivity, cross-pollination between teams, teamwork. There was a wholesomeness to this collection which was frosty at times. It culminated in the way all McQueen shows do, with an unmissable, whimsical dress. Topping last season’s duvet dress, the gown was decorated with silver sequins, geographical shapes imprinted on the delicate chiffon, feathers leading to a plume of sea foam tool. The model was the symbolic of waves, crashing before us. It’s a turbulent time for Scotland and for fashion.
Burton is a talented woman. Her work is resonant with today’s times, although her political motivations are much subtler than her predecessor’s. What I would like to see, is a reason to whoop and cheer at a fashion shows again. She has it in her.
Photo Credit: voguerunway.com