After almost 26 years at Alexander McQueen, creative director Sarah Burton is leaving the brand. Burton, who began working for McQueen as an intern whilst studying at Central Saint Martins, had taken over the brand as creative director following the passing of founder Lee Alexander McQueen back in 2010. A year after succeeding the late McQueen, Burton shot to international fame upon designing the Princess Of Wales’ wedding dress, which became the unionising moment between Burton and the Princess, remaining the designer of choice for the Princess’ public events.
Of Burton’s departure, François-Henri Pinault, Chairman and CEO of Kering said: “I am immensely grateful to Sarah, and I want to personally thank her for her work over the past two decades, first alongside Lee Alexander McQueen, where her role was instrumental to his success, and then as the Creative Director since 2010. Through her own experience, sensitivity and talent, Sarah continued to evolve the artistic expression of this iconic House. She kept and continued Lee’s heritage, attention to detail and unique vision, while adding her own personal, highly creative touch.”
Burton stepping down comes amid a widespread reshuffle in parent company Kering, as Gucci CEO Marco Bizzarri left the company back in July. However, with Kering yet to announce Burton’s successor, speculation grows around who the new head of the iconic brand may be. Here are some of the names we’re placing our bets on…
One of the main names floating around concerning the takeover is fellow Central Saint Martins alumna and gothic queen, Dilara Findikoglu. Since the creation of her own label in 2015, she has gone on to dress the likes of FKA Twigs, Bella Hadid and Madonna. During her time at CSM, she staged a guerilla protest at the prestigious CSM grad show, after her work wasn’t chosen to feature. This rebellious nature is mirrored in her work with a sprinkling of her Turkish heritage and Elizabethan England, all of which honour the late great McQueen’s earlier designers and could take the brand back to its roots with rebellious and cutting-edge fashion (think Shalom Harlow being ravaged by spray paint on stage). For her most recent show for FW23, Findikoglu took us to the formerly derelict Trinity Bow Church, an East End staple in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, the location centering around the gothic and macabre themes of her designs, but also extending them beyond the clothes in a way we haven’t seen since Lee McQueen’s designs.
Noir Kei Ninomiya
Another name we’ve been contemplating is Japanese designer Kei Ninomiya, head of his brand Noir Kei Ninomiya. Following a brief stint studying fashion at Royal Academy of Antwerp, he began his career at Comme Des Garçons as a pattern-maker under Rei Kawakubo, it is clear to see Kawakubo’s influence in his work but also the reference to his beginnings as a pattern-maker. He founded his own label under the CDG umbrella, which became known as Noir Kei Ninomiya. The clever combination of aesthetics – ragtag rebelliousness and delicate fabrics – is reminiscent of Alexander McQueen’s final runway presentation for S/S10 entitled Plato’s Atlantis. Similarly, with both McQueen and Ninomiya dressing Icelandic singer Björk, it seems like a likely decision to appoint the Japanese designer as the new face of McQueen. Bearing all this in mind, Ninomiya could easily become the new face of McQueen.
The New London Designers
Though Findikoglu and Ninomiya are both highly regarded designers in their own right, it seems likely for McQueen to appoint an emerging designer – following the same career progression of Lee McQueen and Sarah Burton. CSM alumnus and east London designer, Saul Nash could be a strong contender for the takeover. McQueen’s working class origins were a big part of the brand and it would be refreshing to have house a designer in the role who has previously put TfL bus stops on the runway and reformed the notion of skiwear beyond rich kids and chalet girls, especially as the fashion industry remains elitist and inaccessible to the working class.
Equally, Harris Reed, another CSM graduate could also be in the running. The British-American designer is best known for his Romantic androgynous designs that have been worn by the likes of Harry Styles, Adele and Miley Cyrus. Openly queer and unapologetic in their designs, the clothing harks back to the androgynous womenswear made famous by McQueen. Though currently the creative director of French fashion house Nina Ricci, with the position finally opening up at McQueen, could he feel inclined to jump ship to the iconic brand?
And there’s also American designer Conner Ives… A recent graduate of CSM, only graduating in 2020, Ives has grown in popularity over the past couple of years with his designs playing on Americana and childhood nostalgia – if he were to succeed Burton in the role, it could represent a welcome shift in the brand’s vision. His designs are often crafted out of vintage garments and repurposed materials, which also acts as a throwback to McQueen’s resourcefulness and the origins of the brand (let’s not forget the cling film dress), and also topical amidst the current climate crisis and domination of fast fashion.
The Celebrity Wildcard
Many big fashion brands have done away with creative directors altogether who hail from fashion design backgrounds, but instead favouring celebrity figureheads. Most notably, with American rapper and music producer being appointed creative director of Louis Vuitton following Virgil Abloh’s death. We can’t help but wonder if McQueen will follow suit, maybe appointing someone along the lines of Doja Cat, as she stated “I want to explore raw, unfiltered, hardcore punk” and with this shift, she could easily have been a muse of the late Lee McQueen. But we doubt McQueen would sell out for a celebrity figurehead (no offence Doja Cat).
If not Alexander McQueen, then who?
There is, maybe, a conversation to be had around whether or not any should try their hand at the role. As fashion fans may have slightly lost sight of Burton’s vision over the years, perhaps being creative director of McQueen is like trying to pull King Arthur’s excalibur from its stone – the brand, although once the epitome of everything that fashion should, could and would be, may have lived and died along with Lee McQueen, one of the – if not the – greatest names in fashion to-date. And with that, could we be seeing the start of the end of McQueen…