Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Heritage Silhouettes

It was Paris Fashion Week a few weeks ago, and keeping an eye on the press-coverage I came across images from the Alexander McQueen show. Continuing the label following McQueen's death last year, creative direction is now in the hands of Sarah Burton. By utilising quintessential "McQueen shapes" which she called "heritage silhouettes," Burton gave a nod of tribute to the man she had worked beside for over ten years.

Held at La Conciergerie - former prison to many of the French Revolution's eventual victims (including Marie Antoinette), the show was called The Ice Queen and Her Court. It was a visual feast of both pale and dark organzas and bondage-like harnesses and straps. Yet even while Sarah Burton made reference to the shapes that define the McQueen label, she was also dipping into the pool of historical references so often used by herself and McQueen in their design work together. 

Unknown Woman, c.1560, National Portrait Gallery
The stiffly starched ruffs and elaborately detailed necklines of the Elizabethan era have been reimagined in gauzy monochrome...

Queen Elizabeth I, attributed to Nicholas Hilliard, c.1575, National Portrait Gallery.
Ruffs worn above a more open neckline were also popular during the latter part of the sixteenth century, as evidenced by the above portrait of Elizabeth I. It allowed a triangle of smooth, white skin to be shown while still wearing the fashionable ruff and elaborate sleeves. The contrast also served as a perfectly contrasting foil for displaying beautiful jewellery.

For Alexander McQueen Autumn/Winter 2011, there are no heavily embroidered fabrics or expensive jewels, but a modern, cleaner version of an age-old fashion trend, complete with slashed, billowing sleeves.

Clean, straight lines and metal studs replace ruffles and pearls to bring Mary Queen of Scots' choker into the twenty-first century.

Francois Clouet, Mary Queen of Scots, c.1565, National Portrait Gallery
I've blogged about this kind of fashion evolution time and again, but it's something that never fails to fascinate. It's always interesting to see a new twist on an age-old style; to see how prevailing ideas about beauty impact on essentially the same idea. In this way, fashion is forever shifting and changing - reinventing itself upon the foundations of old.
Alexander McQueen Autumn/Winter 2011 Collection images, courtesy of style.com.


  1. I loved this post Laura. Wish I'd written it myself....
    I'm really looking forward to the Alexander McQueen retrospective at the Met in May.

  2. A very well- written post and so detailed too.
    I also agree that fashion takes its inspiration from the antique age as stated above. There's nothing better than learning from History, and that includes the world of fashion and its members. Warmly hope you are doing well. XX

  3. This is another really well-written post. Fashion is a bit like "history repeating itself" , however, one should always be cautious about taking it to literally when a trend "comes round again" because the revival will always be slightly different. This post does make that point very well - modern looks that take very strong inspiration from history, yet if anybody was to actually wear a historical costume like that they'd probably look a little OTT (to say the least) or even deranged. Now, I have no idea if all my ramblings make sense... Hope the sun is out where you are too xo

  4. Ingrid - Thanks! How I wish I could see the retrospective, too. It will be amazing...

    Fashion, Art... - I'm very well thanks and hope you are, too. I agree that we can learn so much about who we are from history. Thanks for stopping by!

    Carole - Cautious, definitely. Your "ramblings" make perfect sense (as always, haha!) This is history repeating, but with it's own twist, which is why it's so interesting. The sun is blazing where we are today, looks like it'll be a lovely one! x