If the remit for the first collection was to woo us with romance, for Autumn/Winter 2011 Burton decided to dazzle us with drama.
The three hallmarks of the late Lee Alexander McQueen were razor-sharp tailoring, romance, and drama. His successor Sarah Burton worked with McQueen for over a decade, so some of the credit for that stellar tailoring is probably hers. And if the remit for the first collection was to woo us with romance, for Autumn/Winter 2011 Burton decided to dazzle us with drama.
The first statement came with the location - La Conciergerie, Marie Antoinette's prison and the venue for McQueen's second own-label Paris show back in 2002. It was also the venue originally planned for the presentation of his final collection just over a year ago. That was the history, then - but the flickering tubes of neon that buzzed like an art installation before blinding the audience with a pale blue-white light were utterly contemporary. Well kind of: there was more than a hint of McQueen's late-nineties fashion-cum-performance art about them. But that's a history Burton would do well to connect with.
The drama, however, centred around the clothes rather than flashy theatrics (a few blinking fluorescents hardly count). They kept the lightness of Burton's first offering, Snow Queen layers of pleated and ruffled chiffon and tulle softened with raw edges, but sharpened up the silhouette a little. The bodices hugged every contour of the body from neck to hip, sometimes bound down with bondage harnesses, sometimes seemingly constructed from fragments of Sevres Porcelain (l'Autrichienne would have loved those), skirts erupting into layers of folds and organza miles of intricate honeycomb.
The floor-length tumblers were, of course, McQueen drama at its very finest. But when Burton belled them up around the knee, those bouncing crinolined shapes suddenly had a new believability about them. As did pretty much all the daywear, the razored seams outlined with zips to give graphic emphasis to that intricacy of cut that will make sales tills ring joyously. The goat and silver-tipped fox frothing from shoulders, skirts and waists on neat tailored tweed suits was a typically provocative McQueen touch. This was a winter collection, after all, so it's appropriate that it reminded one of McQueen's show-in-a-snowglobe collection from Winter 1999, when models emerged in similar fur-fettered get-up and danced on ice. But let's not get carried away with a nostalgia trip, as Burton certainly didn't. She used fur as a cloaking device - coating shoulders pointing to heaven and tight waists, it transformed her into a wild beast just about tamed by the tailoring. Maybe that's why more of that bondage cropped up: blinkers, harnesses and criss-cross lacing to keep her in check.
All that trussed-up stuff gave the collection a shadowy touch of kink McQueen would have loved (in fact, come to think of it, didn't he strap-up his own delicate frilled frocks in the same venue nine years ago). But, with that fur softening the signature hard silhouettes and weightless organza lightening the dramatic ball-gowns, the overall impression of this McQueen collection was summarised in the first few moments: darkness flickering suddenly into light.