Sarah Burton On Lee Alexander McQueen and Trusting Her Instincts

Photo courtesy of Interview
A model in Alexander McQueen, shot by Fabien Baron and David Burton—Sarah's photographer husband.

Since the untimely death of Lee Alexander McQueen in early 2010, McQueen’s former right-hand woman, Sarah Burton, has been thrown into the spotlight. She was the face of the company at the Costume Institute’s record-breaking Alexander McQueen: Savage Beauty exhibition last summer, and then there was that royal wedding dress that you might have heard about.

Burton talked to Sarah Jessica Parker in the latest issue of Interview about settling into her new role, keeping the spirit of McQueen alive, and doing things her way.

“Lee was such a genius that I can never pretend to be him,” she said, “but I am very aware that I’m designing for a house that he created, and I try to keep it as true to that as possible.

“What was so amazing about him is that he made you think that anything is possible. He made you challenge yourself all the time, which is why I loved working for him. Nothing was ever impossible. And that was amazing to be around. Completely inspiring.”

Parker, who once accompanied McQueen to the Costume Institute Gala, asked Burton about the process of helping to curate the McQueen exhibition so soon after the designer’s death.

“When we looked at the pieces, there was such sorrow,” Burton said. “But it was also an amazing celebration of what Lee had done. It was really hard to pick the pieces that told the story of Lee because there were so many incredible ones.”

Photo courtesy of Interview
Alexander McQueen.

It’s just a shame that the aforementioned wedding dress, worn by the Duchess of Cambridge when she married Prince William last year, couldn’t make it into the exhibition (Savage Beauty opened just days after the wedding).

“I’m not actually allowed to talk much about it at all,” Burton said about the experience of creating the gown. “It was a precious, magical time that I’ll always treasure, and I feel like she gave me a gift in many ways. I feel incredibly privileged.”

In a time when designers are in and out of fashion houses like pawns, Burton seems to be in exactly the right place at the right time—a feeling that no doubt comes from working alongside McQueen for years.

“I think what’s amazing about McQueen and what was amazing about Lee was that he created this process where it was never really about fashion,” she said. “It was always about a feeling and telling a story. And I think he sort of trained us all— trained me—to try to tell a story and to find a world that doesn’t necessarily relate to what everybody else is doing and to believe in your own instincts.”