by Robin Givhan
It was hard to know what to make of the Alexander McQueen spring 2019 collection when creative director Sarah Burton sent models down a boulder-strewn runway with pigtails plastered to their skulls and their waists trussed up in corsets.
It was a beautifully constructed gown, which is not a surprise because Burton is an incredibly talented designer and Alexander McQueen is a brand with access to experienced production teams.
But a dress for which it would be helpful to have a lady-in-waiting willing and ready to lace one up doesn’t at all seem like what a woman would be looking to wear in the 21st century – unless she was getting done up for her wedding, in which case she may well have entered a state of fashion delirium.
Is your fantasy wedding in Middle Earth? Then this is your dress.
Otherwise, this was … well, what was it exactly?
A Renaissance festival gala gown?
A red-carpet gown for the premiere of a historical drama involving the windswept heath?
Where exactly is a woman, any woman, going in this dress?
The runway, of course, is not a place where everything has to be rooted in reality. By definition, it’s a place for dreams and fantasies and experimentation.
Designers are encouraged to let their imagination race off to the future or conjure up a heightened reality.
Burton, however, seems to let her mind wander to the past, not for inspiration, but as a place to set up residence.
And so, instead of her models looking like cinematic versions of the present or sci-fi creatures hinting at our future, they appear to be actors in a costume drama.
As messengers of fashion, they look out-of-touch, distant and, worst of all, irrelevant.
In her show notes, Burton explained that the collection was focused on the journey of women, rites of passage and feminine milestones.
It was an exploration of birth, marriage, weddings and christenings – all wrapped up in sisterhood. It was about the matriarchy and pagan traditions.
A more modern interpretation of those themes might look at power dressing, the feminine ideal, athleticism and the maternal body.
Instead, Burton took her audience back through time with suits that appeared assembled from pieces of armour and dresses that cinch the waist and flatten the bosom.
To her credit, Burton cast several larger models in her show, women who were noticeably curvier than the usual lean, angular mannequins.
That decision brought a liveliness to a runway that would otherwise have been uninspiring.
But it wasn’t enough to pull the collection out of the past and, at