With the shock of Alexander McQueens suicide in February still reverberating, the Gucci Group announced last week the appointment of Sarah Burton as the new creative director of the London-based fashion house. This decision came as a relief for fashion purists, comforted by the in-house appointment: Burton worked with McQueen for 16 years, and has been head of womenswear since 2000. But it seems hard to imagine that the new director — who is most often commended for having translated McQueen’s runway pieces into more wearable, commercial designs — will display the stunning artistic vision of her predecessor.
McQueen, who early in his career worked as a theatrical costumier, has always been deeply engaged with a fine arts aesthetic. During a 1999 show, he had paint-flinging robots storm the runway, wildly decorating a sculptural white dress along with the model who wore it. An avid art collector (of the haunting photographs of Joel-Peter Witkin, for one), McQueen debuted his Fall/Winter 2010-11 collection in Paris this past March, featuring garments inspired by painting’s old masters that made prominent use of gold brocade and feathers, dramatically-draped heavy crimson silks, and digitally reconstructed prints depicting medieval and renaissance religious iconography.
While New York Times fashion blogger CathyHoryn deemed Burton “not a star,” in the wake of the more scandalous outside hires for major positions at Ungaro and Hermès last week, perhaps Burton is just what the already storm-tossed, London fashion house needed. And Burton, with all her ready-to-wear credentials, may just live up to McQueen’s high artistic legacy after all: she is broadly credited with the completion of the painterly Fall/Winter 2010-11 line.