All the prophesies of doom for the house of Alexander McQueen after its eponymous founder’s untimely and tragic death seem to simply not have materialised. If there were many that pitied Sarah Burton for taking on the job that appeared to be a certain suicide mission, then there are equally many who have cheered along at her sustaining the success of the brand as one of the most directional and individual – and arguably one of very few high-profile British- luxury brands operating in the world of high fashion today.
If there was a kind of certainty that the powers that be were intent on retaining the British identity of the brand with Burton’s appointment, then there is a red thread that follows this through in the SS12 menswear collection just pushed down the catwalk in Milan.
With baggy smoking jackets and tail coats, wide trousers and trench coats nonchalantly draped over hunched shoulders, this is an image of fashion that has a quintessentially English narrative starting with the dissipated aesthetes of the late nineteenth century, via the drunk reckless antics of the Bright Young Things in the 1920’s to the reoccurring form of the rebel aristocrats of almost every British generation since the turn of the century. From the pale heroin-addicted young lords hanging out Perfomance-style with pop stars in the 1960’s to the tabloid images of Jamie Blandford leaving court on drugs charges in the 1990s, the whole world has a bit of a fascination with an aristocrat gone bad dating all the way back to Lord Byron. And the McQueen SS12 collection intuitively taps into the iconography.
The collection for next summer offers a contrast of elements: the white and baggy styling that one immediately associates with a typical Eaton or Oxbridge sporting style mixed with a darker palette and almost gothic sensibility that create a bold frisson. It’s not so much a dressed up look as the look of somebody who was dressed up the night before on the morning after; a kind of informality that only someone who was brought up to never be informal could possibly have.
Needless to say that those who have been somewhat dismayed at the unforgiving narrow silhouettes for men in recent seasons will be delighted at this altogether more roomy shape that is certainly likely to be far more comfortable and easier to pull off for a broader spectrum of the male population.
As is often the case, strong textiles play a key role in the collection. Here, stripes, particularly broader stripes, dominate. Worn in contrast with blocks of solid colour or playing up to the drunken country gentlemen image through contrasting hounds tooth and checks, it also brings in an element of Skin and Ska rebellion, especially when used in bomber jacket combos. On the whole, however, textiles have been restrained to stong geometric patterns with only the occasional feel of a brocade or floral -almost William Morris- motif on suits or smoking jackets that reinforce the notion of the man of leisure informally at home.
The one notable exception to this is the showpiece jacket and shirt combination with a bold photographic flame print that seems to underscore the almost subconscious idea that often it is the flame that burns the shortest that burns most brightly.