Taking both its name and inspiration from a court dance popular in the Baroque era, McQueen’s ‘Sarabande’ (which can be seen in full here) is a fine example of the designer at his devastatingly romantic best. As usual there were undercurrents of melancholy, but the main focus of this show was simply an orchestra and an array of clothing so detailed that its makings owe more to the process of haute couture than prèt-à-porter.
The show opened with a series of black-and-white pieces whose ruffles, hemlines and elaborate headpieces stated McQueen’s intention to create stunning gowns without restrictions. Although there were a few exceptions, it seems that the collection was pure self-indulgence on McQueen’s part – apart from a selection of immaculately-tailored skirt suits and ruffled blouses there was little in the way of wearability. This became clearer and clearer as the show progressed and the designs became more intricate and more impressive – tight dresses saw hips moulded onto them in order to accentuate the hourglass figure, and models struggled to walk in glorious chiffon dresses which exploded into layers of puffed-up chiffon at the ankles.
Then, there were the showpieces. Always a staple of the McQueen collections, these were a series of garments that were completely impossible to wear in everyday life yet demonstrated the designer’s imagination, technical ability and faultless attention to detail. The most famous dress in this collection is the one modelled by Tanya Dziahileva which would soon become one of the highlights of the ‘Savage Beauty’ exhibition. Made from nude silk organza which engorged the model’s throat and embroidered with hundreds of frozen flowers, the dress was a masterpiece in itself. Despite the romantic aesthetic, the fact that the flowers fell off of the dress and littered the runway was actually a commentary on the decay of beauty – both an intelligent twist and a gruesome wink that McQueen has become so well-known for.
The craftsmanship in the collection was also so intricate that the finished result more closely resembled bridal couture than anything else. Washed-out floral prints were trapped beneath cages of tulle and chiffon, whereas cream wedding dresses came complete with grey veils, lending an air of melancholy to the garments on show. One leather dress was moulded to the female torso (again, a McQueen staple) but hand-painted with a series of illustrations including winding stems and tiny birds. Another dress was made from dusky pink silk and came with a tight corset which nipped in the waist and appeared to trap a series of flowers which spilled over at the neck and the sleeves.
Despite the undertones of melancholy and decay, 'Sarabande'. remains one of McQueen’s most beautiful collections and has spawned some of his most impressive creations. It was the collection that had him hailed by many as a romantic genius and one which saw brides beating down his door to create bespoke collections for their big day. More than anything, it was a true example that the designer had reached the peak of his fame and no longer needed to ‘sell out’ to sell well. It was McQueen at his finest.