The upper room of Alexander McQueen’s Bond Street flagship store has been transformed into a studio. “Anybody can come. Schoolchildren come, teenagers come, grandparents come,” Burton says. “It’s really a space for everybody to see how we put the collection together.”
Demystifying the design process and promoting a democratic side of fashion has been a longtime McQueen trait; Lee himself came from a working class background and would rely upon the instinctive skill and creativity of young students and interns to assist in the creation of his early collections. “Everyone should have the door opened to them,” says current Alexander McQueen creative director Sarah Burton during the virtual Vogue Forces of Fashion 2020 summit. “There’s no hierarchy of ideas – it’s a really collaborative process,” she continues, referring to her team and their efforts to stay creative during lockdown by sketching or using dead-stock to drape and create shapes in their kitchens. She received “inspiring” pictures of their efforts, which have only served to substantiate her resolute hoarding of everything from old fabrics to Lee’s drawings (“He had a memory like an elephant, so I never threw anything away.”)
Back in April, the brand further built on their idea of creative community by launching a social media project to inspire a conversation that anyone and everyone could be a part of. Each week, a moodboard was released on the brand’s Instagram and followers would be invited to engage artistically with their favorite images and #McQueenCreators – a visual dialogue began.
“I love the idea of imperfection in beauty,” says Burton, describing the draping and pinning process she used to create the exquisite and exaggerated ‘rose’ dresses for Fall 2019. “We wanted [the model] to become a rose,” she continues, explaining that her design process is always “very organic” and collaborative, even if her method might veer from sketching to draping to 3D design. Recalling the moment Lee altered a dress backstage just minutes before the Sarabande Spring 2007 show, taking away the tulle wrapping that held in place hundreds of live roses so that they gradually fell off as the model walked, it’s clear Burton values ‘the process’ of creative expression just as much as the final result.
While 2020 has certainly been a challenge for designers, Burton has enjoyed a different pace, too, referring to the past few months as a time to “cleanse the palette”, be more creative and really consider how things are made. Reciting a quote, “Nothing is impossible, you just have to try,” Burton reflects that it is one of the biggest lessons she learned from Lee, someone whose creative genius and collaborative instinct lives on within the community at McQueen.