Until Friday, few outside the fashion industry’s precious circles and a handful of celebrities would have heard of Sarah Burton. As right-hand woman to the British couturier Alexander McQueen, her talents became his tool; it was his label and he signed the collections.
Now, however, Burton is known to every fashionista and royal-watcher from London to New York. Her name has been on every newspaper front page. And speculation is mounting that, having been chosen by the new Duchess of Cambridge, Burton is a prime choice for taking one of the most respected jobs in fashion.
According to a shortlist leaked to Women’s Wear Daily, her name had already been mentioned in connection with the top post at Christian Dior, vacated after John Galliano was sacked for alleged anti-Semitic remarks. Now many believe the royal wedding could set her apart from other contenders such as Tom Ford and Hedi Slimane.
“I think the world is her oyster at this point. I think she’s going to be living off the high of this. I think Sarah can really call her own shots now,” Elle creative director Joe Zee was quoted as telling celebrity Web site HollywoodLife.
Proponents of the theory point out that Dior chairman Bernard Arnault is notoriously media-savvy, and claim he remembers the selling power of royalty, having seen Princess Diana boost the image of Dior in the mid-1990s when she was photographed carrying a Lady Dior bag and, on a separate occasion, wearing a Dior gown by Galliano to attend a gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
That power was already on display as retailers raced to create cut-price copycat versions of the dresses worn by Kate Middleton and her bridesmaids, which are expected to set wedding trends for the rest of the year and beyond.
“The dress Catherine wore for her engagement was copied by a number of retailers and sold very well. Replicas of her wedding dress and other outfits from the royal wedding are sure to be in stores very quickly and retailers will be expecting good sales,” said Sarah Cordey, a spokeswoman for the British Retail Consortium. “It’s likely lace and draped fabrics will become key trends in the next few weeks.
“Any event which gets people excited about clothes is good for the high street, and the new Duchess of Cambridge is already a fashion icon.”
That status was cemented on Friday almost entirely through the choice of Burton as designer. In Paris, the wedding gown won praise from leviathans of French fashion including the hard-to-please Karl Lagerfeld, artistic director of Chanel, who described it as “refined ... with an air of the 1950s which reminds us of Marilyn or Elizabeth II’s dress.” Nathalie Rykiel said the dress was “simple but magnificent,” while Jean-Charles de Castelbajac said he was moved by its “nobility” and “purity.”
For Burton, who took over as creative director at the Alexander McQueen label after her mentor committed suicide in February last year, this celebrity whirl is anathema. Several people in the fashion industry whom we contacted described her as a very private person. Apart from a few words to Vogue magazine, she is not known to have ever given a formal interview and little is known of her private life.
“She is unusual in that she doesn’t give interviews and never has in all the years she worked for McQueen and since his death,” said one insider who did not want to be named. “She hates the idea of being a celebrity or star designer; it’s not her style at all. She just wants to get on with her work and be known for that.”