Once Helmut Lang’s show premiered on September 8th, fashion month had officially begun. Global fashion brands’ Spring 2024 quickly flooded the pages of fashion editorials, style pages and the profiles of influencers around the world. Whilst now, a month later, it is hard to imagine the chaos fashion week brings in the cities of New York, London, Milan and Paris, memories of the 2024 collections continue to linger.
In particular, the striking and alluring designs of Anatomy II continue to inspire wonder and invite discussions regarding the stylistic motivation of Sarah Burton, head designer at Alexander McQueen, for which the collection was made all the more poignant since this was Burton’s final show with the house after over two decades.
Throughout the collection, Burton exhibited the concept of strength, beauty and above all empowerment in the female body, with this concept reinventing itself through the employment of a range of female symbolism during the show. Whilst the range of imagery may be argued to contradict one another, it is in fact through these juxtapositions that Burton effectively demonstrates the diverse and resilient capability of both the female body and spirit.
As the show began, Kaia Gerber debuted a black mini dress, with her hair tightly pulled back, framed by gold earrings. The fitted design of the dress, with a panelled torso, padded shoulder pads and sharp slits at the shoulder and in the central chest area, cut a sharp silhouette in its rigid armour-like form. As alternative looks took to the runway, Burton further experimented with the depiction of armour, for example in the metallic bodices and skirts worn by Ceretti, Bol and Campbell, connoting the medieval armour worn by female warriors (see Versace’s portrayal of Joan of Arc in Zendaya’s outfit at the MET Gala 2018 for an alternative approach to this idea). Furthermore, the design of the bodice was a particularly prominent feature in the collection, for example model Rachel Marx, wore a gold winged breastplate, referencing classical female figures such as Bellona, ancient Roman goddess of war.
Burton’s designs also drew interesting parallels with the designs of female period garments whose purpose was to both accentuate a female’s ‘womaness’ whilst shrouding her in humility and mystery. Burton has cited Elizabeth I as a key source of inspiration for this collection and has sought to pay homage to her legacy as a fearless leader. One of Burton’s designs from the collection included a white net dress, adorned in silver and diamond embellishment, referencing one of Elizabeth I’s most recognised paintings. In this, her power is conveyed through her elaborate dress, in particular the details of lace that portray her as an ethereal being. Although created centuries apart, both designs successfully celebrate female strength through the use of soft, elaborate details.
The influence of Elizabeth I upon this collection is also evident through the motif of the red rose. In its placement upon a white dress, the rose references the British heritage of the McQueen house. However, in its reinterpretation in the dress modelled by Bamigboye, the rose makes far greater reference to ideas of fertility. The design of this dress also connotes artist Magdalena Abakanowicz’s work Abakans, which through its exploration of female symbolism, portrays the pain, sacrifice and power tied to female anatomy. Burton has cited Abakanowicz’s trajectory as an artist as immensely inspiring due to the determination she has demonstrated in the face of severe adversity. The red woven threads of Abakanowicz’s sculpture may also be perceived in the trailing red threads of the dress modelled by Sjöberg. Burton arguably elicits a hint of irony in this design, as the threads fall from a reaching hand that may connote Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. However, Burton reinterprets this traditional narrative, to instead credit female anatomy as the source of continual creation.
As the show drew to a close and Burton, for once, walked the full track of the runway, she was greeted by adoration and applause for the work she has produced for the house over the past 26 years. Within these final designs, Burton has left a collection that captures the multidimensional essence of what it is to be a woman. Her garments portray the ethereal beauty of female anatomy, reflected in soft, delicate designs, paralleled by alternative designs of rigid, bold, and strict silhouettes that capture the strength that has always been demanded of women. As Burton leaves the house of McQueen, she leaves a legacy that will remember her celebration and her empowerment of the female form and spirit.
Images are taken from the Alexander McQueen Spring 2024 runway show; The Rainbow Portrait, Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, 1600; The Phoenix Portrait, Nicholas Hilliard, 1575; Abakans, Magdalena Abakanowicz, 2022; The Creation of Adam, Michelangelo, 1512