Fashion designer Sarah Burton has officially announced her departure from Alexander McQueen after serving as the Creative Director of the storied British label for a whopping 26 years.
The Cheshire native first began her career at Alexander McQueen after being poached from the hallowed grounds of the revered Central Saint Martins art school during her third year of studying print fashion. At the time, Burton joined the company as an intern, operating out of their studio in Hoxton Square.
In 1997, she graduated from her course and took up a permanent role with the label, swiftly being appointed the Head of Womenswear three years later, where she worked in tandem alongside Lee himself until his passing in 2010. Burton was subsequently tapped to replace him as Creative Director and has been leading the label ever since.
Across the span of her tenure, she went on to set the tone for what McQueen represented as a label, deftly striking a balance between maintaining the core house codes that the late designer himself had established through his impeccable approach to avant grade suiting and tailoring, and contemporary sensibilities.
This resulted in an aesthetic that many have described evoked a deep sense of dramatic melancholy, interspersed with imaginative use of floral motifs as well as embroidery work which have since come to define Burton’s career at Alexander McQueen. Her reputation as one of Britain’s most influential fashion doyens was further cemented when she designed the wedding gown worn by Catherine, Princess of Wales during her wedding to Prince William in 2011.
On the occasion of her departure, we take a look back at some of the most iconic Alexander McQueen looks by Sarah Burton.
Feature and hero image credits: Alexander McQueen/Instagram, Kate Middleton waves as she arrives at the West Door of Westminster Abbey in London for her wedding to Britain’s Prince William, on April 29, 2011. (Image credit: Odd Andersen/AFP)
Jump To / Table of Contents
Arguably one of the most recognisable designs from Sarah Burton’s portfolio at Alexander McQueen is the wedding gown she designed for Catherine, Princess of Wales. It was claimed that Her Royal Highness had chosen the label, owing to “the beauty of its craftsmanship and its respect for traditional workmanship and the technical construction of clothing”.
The strikingly minimalist ensemble featured delicate handmade lace by the London School of Needlework layered atop pure ivory silk gazar, a padded bodice to flatter her silhouette, and was completed by an eight-foot-long train.
Actress Sadie Sink wore a dramatic strapless dress from Alexander McQueen’s Pre-Spring/Summer 2023 collection during the screening of The Whale. The ensemble featured a feathered skirt created in powder blue tulle, accented by a crystal-embroidered harness.
Actress Rooney Mara was seen wearing a bespoke Alexander McQueen gown designed by Sarah Burton during the 92nd Academy Awards. Pieces of cascading black lace that created the illusion of a chest-piece merged into a hand-shredded oyster ruffle skirt to create an almost Gothic look.
In a dramatic departure from the usual McQueen hallmarks, actress Charlize Theron was spotted wearing a figure-hugging cobalt gown from the label’s Spring/Summer 2023 collection during the Fast X photocall in Rome. The knitted look was created with strategic cutouts and came complete with metal ring details as well as a matching pair of boots.
Predictably, Sarah Burton has also been known to be one of Queen Bey’s most frequent collaborators, especially during her Renaissance tour. Among some of the most iconic looks to have debuted on stage included this custom-made bodysuit, completely encrusted in sequins and fronted by a beaded horse motif.
Tapping into British heritage and iconography, actress Yseult was photographed on the Indiana Jones and The Dial of Destiny red carpet wearing an exquisite red dress made of taffeta, draped to resemble giant roses at the skirt. The neckline further added to the drama with a ruffled Elizabethan collar.
Sarah Burton’s Alexander McQueen Spring/Summer 2023 collection was an obvious departure from the theatrical drama typically associated with her work under the label. Instead, more sculptural shapes assembled using inventive techniques and materials dominated the runway, including this cobalt corset dress seen on Anya Taylor Joy during The Menu‘s UK premiere that came complete with an asymmetrical peplum skirt and matching gloves.
Frequent house collaborator Rooney Mara was also seen in another McQueen look this year when taking the red carpet for the Screen Actor’s Guild Awards in Los Angeles, where she was nominated for an award. The striking look was made using a combination of white lace, appliquéd with black and white dove lace embroidery that ended in a flowing, full-length skirt.
Malaysia’s very own silver screen veteran, Michelle Yeoh, sported a Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen creation this year when attending the 43rd Critics Circle Awards held in London. The gown, which featured a trenchcoat motif, added an air of refined, ladylike elegance with coiffed tulle that adorned the sleeves and skirt. She completed the look with a pair of platform boots also from McQueen.
Longtime house collaborator Lady Gaga made a truly showstopping entrance during the 91st Academy Awards wearing a regal, custom Alexander McQueen gown designed by Sarah Burton. Made of black silk faille, the ensemble featured engineered corset seams to enhance the star’s silhouette, with a full godet skirt to round things off with. Gaga accessorised the gown with Tiffany & Co.’s 128-carat diamond necklace.
Actress Elle Fanning was photographed stepping onto the red carpet at the 76th Venice Annual Cannes Film Festival in a custom Sarah Burton design. The McQueen gown was made with a crystal-embroidered bodice that resembled silver parted orchid petals that gently segued into a pink tulle skirt finished using Paris net and silver bugle details.
But prior to her Oscars’ moment, Lady Gaga had already tapped Sarah Burton’s designs during the premiere of A Star Is Born in London. Wearing a piece from the Alexander McQueen Autumn/Winter 2013 collection, her gown of choice was made using an ornate combination of organza jacquard lace, with dropped sleeves and a harness encrusted in gold and pearl embroidery.
Before taking on the powdery pink world of Barbie, actress Margot Robbie became a global sensation after being cast for the role of Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad. To complement her character, she was seen wearing a whimsical tulle gown that featured a wraparound silver unicorn motif during the movie’s world premiere in New York City.
Euphoria actress Zendaya, who was also cast as MJ in Spider-Man: Homecoming, made an appearance at the Spider-Man No Way Home photocall in London in a tailored Alexander McQueen look. The Sarah Burton design comprised a gray double-breasted blazer with cascading crystal detailing around the shoulders and lapel, paired with matching thigh-high Arc Boots that carried on the motif.
Former First Lady of the United States, Michelle Obama, has long since cemented her reputation as an indomitable style icon. Among her most memorable fashion moments includes this resplendent red gown by Sarah Burton, during one of her earliest ventures as Creative Director for Alexander McQueen. The look featured a black-and-red floral print with an asymmetrical shoulder detail.