Lee Alexander McQueen had a love-hate relationship with the establishment: he scrawled 'Cunt' across the canvas interlining of a jacket destined for the Prince of Wales with the same hand that created exquisitely-wrought ballgowns, not least an A/W 2008 collection dedicated to the glories of the British Empire. So, while the title 'Pomp and Circumstance' may seem unusual for a McQueen show, it actually taps cleverly into the brand's heritage. That heritage must be foremost in new Creative Director Sarah Burton's mind - this was the first collection entirely devised under her directorship, and the need to both pay homage to Lee McQueen's legacy and move the brand on must have weighed heavily on her shoulders.
All in all, Burton's vision was sure. As that name suggests, for Spring/Summer 2011, her McQueen collection drew on on the founder's British roots - Savile Row, aristocracy, military grandeur, all the lustre of a fading empire. Hence we had Great War trenches, Eton schoolboys' morning coats, Teddy Boy brothel creepers and a hefty dose of that trademark tailoring. We also had a neat checklist of next season's emergent themes - the idea of the Dandy and luxurious sportswear, here more often than not collided into interesting and unique hybrids. Think skinny jodpur-styled trousers, silk cravats under leather aviator jackets, poacher's-pockets bristling across every surface and backs pulled with belts in like knotted trench-coats.
At the same time, one couldn't help but feel something was slightly lacking. Maybe it was the darkness and drama that characterised McQueen's menswear spectacle - replaced here with a romance and (dare we say it) femininity. Lee McQueen's vision was all-encompassing: his last menswear collection was a case in point, with venue and clothes smothered in mesmerising concentric skull prints. Love it or hate it, it was single-minded and uncompromising. By contrast, the question here was whether these outfits really held together as a collection. There seemed to be something for everyone - a commercial necessity, certainly, but in a presentation comprised of just twenty-four outfits, it sometimes felt as if the vision kowtowed slightly to retail demands. The pieces that worked best were the most extreme, the attenuated line of a shrunken trench with Norfolk pleat flank, for example; the contrast of tourniquet-tight leggings with wide, cropped trousers; or the slightly unsettling proportions of a drawn-in waist on a silk blouson or black tail-coat.
This was never going to be a completely authoritative statement: Burton has held the reins for a short period of time, and this small, well-formed collection ticked all the right boxes. It shows that the McQueen brand is in safe hands, and that Burton has her own distinct handwriting. It will no doubt make interesting reading in the years to come.