Alexander McQueen wedding dress rumour fuelled by ice queen show

Intrigue does not come much thicker than that currently surrounding the wedding dress of Kate Middleton

In the world of fashion, intrigue does not come much thicker than that currently surrounding the wedding dress of Kate Middleton. Sarah Burton, designer of the Alexander McQueen label since his death last year, staged a catwalk show in Paris which fanned the rumours that she has landed the fashion commission of the century – while simultaneously raising serious questions around the story.

There are some matters in which those in attendance are in agreement. Firstly, that if the rumours are true, the world is in for a treat come 29 April. These were dresses of staggering beauty, both in their fanciful conception and in the perfection of their execution. On a day when the entire world may be in thrall to one dress, a Burton dress would send a clear message that fashion is one arena in which Britain can still lead and inspire the world.

But in the context of the weekend's stories, the show – staged at the Conciergerie, from where Marie Antoinette was escorted to her death – appeared to send another message: that the mischievousness and irreverence that was a part of McQueen's soul lives on at the label. The event was staged at the Conciergerie, a Paris prison for high-value prisoners, which became known as "the antechamber to the guillotine". Marie Antoinette was held here, before being walked to her death. To hold a catwalk show, one month before the royal wedding, in a place which housed a disgraced Queen on the eve of her death, suggests either that Burton is not, after all, the royal wedding dress designer, or that if she is then, both she and Kate Middleton have a fairly remarkable disregard for the sentiments of Middleton's soon-to-be in-laws.

To thicken the plot yet further,

Burton cited "an ice queen" as the inspiration for the show, which opened with three all-white outfits and included a dress with a porcelain bodice and sculptured waterfall skirt.

"We started with a regal, noble woman, but a woman who is romantic above all," said Burton after the show. "Like, for instance, a princess?", someone asked. Burton responded with a categorical denial: "I'm not doing it. It's just a stupid story. Next week it will be someone else – Bruce Oldfield, Stella McCartney. It's silly," she said, doing an extremely plausible impression of someone who really wasn't designing a wedding dress after all, but had simply happened to theme a collection around romance and queenliness.

Just about the only thing not in dispute, after the show, was that Burton had established herself as a formidable fashion talent in her own right. One gown featured a porcelain corset, which had been moulded as one piece, shattered, and the shards sewn individually back onto a fabric base.

Twenty-four hours before the show, the machine which drilled holes in the delicate china broke, so that each hole for sewing had to be made by hand, taking up to an hour each time. Several holes were necessary to secure each shard of china. The bodice topped a vast, bridal train of pleated ivory tulle.

After the show, the women who had worked on the piece were hugging each other in pride and exhaustion.

"Hand craft is a huge inspiration," Burton said backstage. "But after what we've been through to make these clothes, I do see why we had an industrial revolution."

If Burton is to be the designer of the royal wedding dress, then she will be stepping out of McQueen's shadow in less than two months with a garment to make her more famous than he ever was. But this collection proved that even if that is not the case, Burton is destined to have her name in lights.


Jess Cartner-Morley

The GuardianTramp

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