Tak­ing her friend and men­tor Alexan­der McQueen’s epony­mous la­bel to new heights, Bur­ton con­tin­ues to sur­prise and de­light with her op­u­lent, ro­man­tic de­signs. An­drew O’Ha­gan salutes the Bri­tish fash­ion pow­er­house.

Harper's Bazaar (India) - - BAZAAR FASHION -

THE FIRST TIME I MET SARAH BUR­TON, my favourite de­signer, she showed me a rail of iconic frocks and shed a few tears over mem­o­ries of things past. She was hon­est. She was bril­liant. And I felt there was a new woman stand­ing in front of me, some­one with a nat­u­ral tal­ent not only for mak­ing clothes but for mak­ing them sing and dance and rock with sug­ges­tion. I love how ea­ger she is to embrace her con­tra­dic­tions and keep mov­ing on­wards and in­wards, dis­cov­er­ing new things in her­self and new things in the world around her. With her blonde hair and gen­tle fea­tures, with her ready laugh­ter and a sense of in­fi­nite jest, Sarah can be viewed as one of those pi­o­neer­ing English women who es­tab­lish their ge­nius qui­etly, but after much dark­ness. When I left her that first day, it seemed ob­vi­ous to me that Bur­ton was on the cusp of a great new pe­riod. “Clothes change our view of the world,” said Vir­ginia Woolf, “and the world’s view of us.”

The dark­ness I spoke about di­min­ished, after a while, into a new dawn for Sarah. Her an­nus hor­ri­bilis was 2010, the win­ter her great friend, men­tor, and long-term work­ing part­ner (Lee) Alexan­der McQueen killed him­self, at the age of 40. She mourns him ev­ery day, but part of the spirit they shared was the in­stinct to get on and do it. She is al­ways keen to pre­serve his rep­u­ta­tion, and is putting a lot of ef­fort into Sav­age Beauty, a show of McQueen’s work that will open at the V&A in March. “It’s go­ing to be an amaz­ing ex­hi­bi­tion,” she says. “There was such a magic about Lee, and the show is go­ing to cap­ture it. I want every­body to see it. Some­one asked if we could end the ex­hi­bi­tion with the wed­ding dress I made for the Duchess of Cam­bridge, but I said no. This show is about the bril­liance of Lee.”

But what has also be­come clear in re­cent times—and what makes her the per­fect choice as 2014’s De­signer of the Year—is that Bur­ton’s own bril­liance, her own sen­sual, haunt­ingly el­e­gant work, with its deca­dent un­der­tones, sub­tle ref­er­ences, and daz­zling ideas, has come into its own in a timely fash­ion. She has al­ways had an in­sight­ful way with ma­te­ri­als and pat­terns—one of the rea­sons Lee McQueen loved her so much—but time has brought out the deep and way­ward ro­man­tic in Bur­ton. She is now mak­ing clothes that de­fine for an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence what it means to be­lieve in the pre­vi­ously un­think­able, and has be­come, of all the cre­ative charm­ers, a woman with seem­ingly lim­it­less re­serves of en­chant­ment to call upon. Her hugely an­tic­i­pated shows are more var­ied and the ideas are more durable than those of a great num­ber of her con­tem­po­raries.

Per­haps it’s the fact that she doesn’t start from an out­landish place in the first in­stance: Her imag­i­na­tion has the nat­u­ral allure of the every­day English girl of style, yet is wreathed in su­per­nat­u­ral tem­pests. Not long ago, I asked her about the paint­ings she saw in her child­hood at the Manch­ester Art Gallery, all those PreRaphaelite mas­ter­pieces full of English pageantry and bru­tal­ity

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