Designer Diaries – Duchess of Cambridge and Sarah Burton for Alexander McQueen

Much like Catherine Walker defined her late mother-in-law, Sarah Burton’s designs for Alexander McQueen define the Duchess of Cambridge. Both women wore many designers, but if you were asked to play match-up fashion house to the royal, those pairings come to mind.

The McQueen design house was founded by Alexander “Lee” McQueen, a fashion visionary. On the surface, it’s an odd choice for a royal, for Lee used fashion to dive into his psyche. He produced clothes that reflected his vision of a dark, difficult world. That’s not something you expect to see worn by a future Queen. Sarah Burton kept the rigorous attention to detail and tailoring (including the trademark corsetry) and moved the design house to a more traditional aesthetic, influenced by the rural England of her childhood. Still, McQueen is a fashion house that does not always design fashions based on conventional ideas of beauty, and as such, it’s an interesting choice for the Duchess.

Burton took over the design house after McQueen’s death in 2010. By her own account, she was comfortable as a team player, and the transition to leader took her into a new personal as well as professional space. She grew up in the North of En­gland, wearing hand-me-downs from her four siblings. Her longing for beauty and sophistication – and, probably, new clothes – followed her to Saint Martins art school when the place was still buzzing with the talk of McQueen, who had recently graduated. Burton interned with him and they clicked, so much so her ascendancy to head of the design house was never in question.

It’s said that Kate Middleton first became intrigued with McQueen at the 2005 wedding of Camilla’s son, Tom Parker-Bowles. Sarah Buys, his bride, wore an Alexander McQueen gown, and the future Duchess of Cambridge took note. She would eventually choose McQueen designs for all three of her children’s christenings, several high-profile weddings, and, of course, for her own wedding. Her entire wedding party was also dressed by Sarah Burton.

The Christenings

The Duchess established a pattern of wearing McQueen for her children’s christening ceremonies. All were structured, cream-colored day dresses, with a variety of necklines and details.

The Weddings

The Duchess wore three very different McQueen designs for three high profile weddings, that of her sister, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, and for Princess Eugenie’s nuptials.

The Wedding Gown

The Duchess’ wedding dress has been discussed a lot, so what else is to say? The delicate lace appliques hand-made by the Royal School of Needlework did not display well in photos of the day but were definitely seen by those who were there in person. The entire ensemble is something the designer can be proud of. It fit like a dream. It is timeless, flattering, and very very appropriate for a future queen. There are those who say if Kate Middleton-as-she-was married a non-royal she would have chosen something far different, but having seen her sister’s wedding gown I am not entirely sure that is true. The Middletons are English country people. At heart, Kate, Duchess or not, has a traditional streak and it was truly reflected that day.

Embed from Getty Images

The dress is corseted, as you would expect from a McQueen creation. The hip area is padded (can you imagine needing that?), and the skirt opens up in a flower fashion. Burton stated, “We weighted the whole of the bottom part of the dress with canvas, and in particular the middle (of the train) so when we lifted the dress it would fall back in exactly the same position.” The designer must have studied the Abbey intently, for the just under the nine-foot train was an ideal proportion when seen from above.

Embed from Getty Images

Embed from Getty Images

Pippa’s maid of honor dress caused quite a stir that day, but it, too, has held up. It’s complementary without being a copy of the wedding gown, and it suited her so very, very well. The other attendants? Well, adorable and entirely English.

Embed from Getty Images

Burton also designed the dress for the reception in the evening. This was much sleeker, as befits an evening party. The strapless dress was made of white satin gazar. It featured a full skirt and a diamante embroidered belt. Because this was April in London, Kate added an angora bolero cardigan.

Embed from Getty Images

Burton has continued from strength to strength, as has the Duchess. Spam away any and all McQueen designs in the comments, and any and all photos of the bridal party. It’s a Big Spam Day. While I am at it, happy anniversary to the two crazy kids.