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.

Alexander McQueen’s Furry Snow Queens

Godfrey Deeny
March 09th, 2011 @ 1:21 PM - Paris

The second Alexander McQueen runway collection designed by Sarah Burton, and in many ways the first true test of her ability to direct the brand, was presented Tuesday, March 8, in Paris.

Since her debut in September ultimately came in the wake of McQueen's own tragic death, no critic or editor was in any particular mood to be unfavorable back then. So how did Burton - who spent some 15 years working directly for McQueen - perform? Well, with an inspiring, frequently thrilling, display of rarefied fashion, more haute couture than ready-to-wear, and containing moments of rather exquisite elegance and hyper-charged beauty - just like McQueen at his best.

Staged under the arches of La Conciergerie, the steamy medieval prison where aristocrats were held prior to being sent to the guillotine in the French Revolution, the show, ironically, was loosely inspired by Ice Queens. Burton's ice queens, however, with their sadomasochistic harnesses, straps and buckles were anything but chilly.

She also injected a feminine twist in her opening looks, with a brilliant series of tightly tailored suits and dresses, boasting a myriad of horizontal zips and marvelous feather piping and fur trim. The look was courtly, charming, challenging and cool.

An imaginative experimentation with the house's signature chess piece shape was also evident, most memorably with a bustier dress, where the torso was made of tiny pieces of broken English China.

While more feminine, this was always tough chic, heightened by the bizarre use of scores of silver hairclips to ensconce the models' heads like quirky robots.

Burton also got it right with the stacked platform boots with gothic metal accoutrements that had that an alluring weird beauty. In a word she had cleverly respected the McQueen's DNA, a term fashion insiders use incessantly to describe the unique characteristics of each designer or brand.

Burton received a huge amount of applause when she took her bow and was drenched in superlatives by a regiment of British editors, several of them in tears, in the backstage. After twelve months that has seen the death of McQueen, and auto-destruction of John Galliano - the U.K.'s two greatest modern fashion designers - their relief at the confirmation of Burton's skill was palpable.

Their nerves were clearly raw, just like the chiffon edges of the strict modernist suits in this show.

"They were hand-frayed on hand-looms, which made me realize what a good thing the Industrial Revolution had been," joked a shy and agreeably modest Burton backstage, when a cry of "Please Help!" suddenly shifted everyone's attention to behind her.

"Could someone help me out of this?" politely pleaded model Nimue Smit, her hands indicating the truly beautiful porcelain dress in which she stood, and causing a huge burst of laughter.

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