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Alexander McQueen fashions couture collection from the kitchen table

By Danielle Wightman-Stone

5 Feb 2021

Fashion

Fashion brands have had to adapt during the ongoing pandemic, with catwalks cancelled and retail shut, and Alexander McQueen’s design staff rose to the challenge by creating couture creations from their kitchens and gardens.

With working from home becoming a norm, Alexander McQueen sent its designer’s home with stock house fabric to work on, and couture garments from sharply cut masculine-inspired tailoring to prom dresses were brought to life.

Sarah Burton’s team experimented with dip-dyed washed silk organza in the garden before hanging them out to dry on their washing lines, while others cut by hand at their kitchen tables, and the whole working from home process was immortalised through hand-drawn sketches embroidered onto organza panels.

The collection the London-based fashion house explains “harks back to the early days of McQueen and a free, make-do-and-mend spirit” and features mid-twentieth century silhouettes, sweetheart necklines, soft shoulders and overblown skirts.

The innovative pre-spring 2021 couture collection is complemented by a hyper-feminine colour palette in shades of pink, from albion to fuchsia rose, and red, punctuated by classic black. While asymmetric hand-draped silks and exploded bows give a nod to the haute couture tradition finishing an audaciously romantic look.

What working from home looks like for Alexander McQueen’s couture atelier during a pandemic

The star of the collection is a pink and black dip-dyed dress with an asymmetrical off-the-shoulder drape and a tiered skirt in washed silk organza. Once the basic structure of the piece was finalised, complete with hand-knotting, pleating and sewing the bodice onto the corset, the design team had to take it all apart to be dip-dyed.

To get the right dip-dyed finish, the McQueen design team experimented on the fabric in their homes and gardens, as the dying process is “complicated,” explained the brand. In order to maintain the pink hem, the dress had to be opened at the waist so that the bodice and skirt could be dipped separately, with the skirt dipped upside-down.

McQueen notes that while all experiments on the fabric were conducted at home the final result was achieved with the support of a professional dying team before being reassembled.

Another pink and black dip-dyed look, with ruffles, a high neck and scalloped back, was constructed in entirely recycled materials sourced from existing fabric stock. The creation of the voluminous oyster ruffle dress was “labour-intensive” as every circle of organza was cut by hand. To achieve the undulating effect on the finished piece, the panels of ruffles were not stitched on in straight rows, instead, they following organic, waving lines.

To create the degradé scale effect, McQueen explains that many trails took place to research the density and scale of the ruffles required to achieve the desired effect.

Upon completion, the dying process required the piece to be taken apart to achieve the precise effect, before it could be put back together again.

Behind the scenes: Alexander McQueen pre-spring 2021 couture

The at-home atelier team also designed a double-layered tuxedo jacket in black wool-silk with a wrapped bow peplum in albion pink microfaille and cigarette trousers in black wool-silk with a black satin tuxedo stripe.

The inspiration for this look was an oversized 1950s couture bow, re-imagined and spliced into a tuxedo jacket, with the bow looking like it was threaded through the jacket.

McQueen explains that experiments took place at home with a design team member working in calico to create the bow proportion and the peplum. The bow was toiled in several different sizes before the final version was chosen.

The final behind-the-scenes look is the construction of an asymmetric floor-length dress with an exploded skirt volume in washed calico silk organza that features the design teams sketches hand embroidery over a skeletal corset in silk tulle. A homage to the time the atelier worked from home to create couture masterpieces.

“Sarah Burton and the team wanted the dress to feature all the sketches and designs that had been created during previous months as a memento of working from home, telling the story of community and teamwork prevailing through a challenging time,” the brand added.

The finished look was created using layers of organza resulting in an almost transparent effect and reflecting the work-in-progress spirit inspired by pictures taken by the design team on their phones during the design process on proportion and shape.

Once the sketches had been gathered together, the head of the embroidery team took and engineered the placement of the drawings onto a digital mock-up of the dress which was then printed onto organza panels. After the printed fabric had been returned to the studio, the panels were divided between the embroidery team who were each sent one to their homes to embroider. The completed panels were all returned to the studio post-lockdown to be assembled into the final dress.

Images: courtesy of Alexander McQueen; collection images by Chloe Le Drezen; embroidered sketches image by Olivia Arthur