Sarah Burton, 40, has had to contend with two of the biggest challenges any fashion designer has faced in recent memory: Assuming the mantle of creative director at Alexander McQueen following the legendary designer’s suicide, and not long after, designing one of the most hotly anticipated and iconic wedding gowns of all time, for the Duchess of Cambridge. And she did it all while avoiding the spotlight as much as possible. But now she’s ready to open up a bit — and she did to
The New York Times
“My job is quite fearful — I don’t shout the loudest, and I’m quite shy, which was why I was reluctant to throw myself into the public eye,” she says. “I love beauty, craftsmanship, storytelling and romance, and I probably don’t have the armor to survive the relentless competition that exists in this particular world. But I have my own toughness.”
She relied on that toughness to get her through the uncomfortable period where she was getting intense speculation about — and then attention for — Kate’s famous Royal Wedding gown. “I had no idea it would be as big as it was. Only the night before, seeing all the photographers outside the abbey, did I think, ‘Oh, my God. This is massive,'” she says.
And though she’s avoided commenting on their collaboration aside from calling it “a magical time,” she does open up a bit now, though mostly to explain why she’s been so close-lipped about the process. “Some people think … that I’m afraid to speak up about the happy experience I had creating the Duchess of Cambridge’s wedding dress, but I can tell you that is nonsense. I have never been a shrinking violet or a person who is ruled by fear,” she says. “I loved making the dress … and we put our hearts into it. I respect the intimate nature of that lovely project and I respect the friendships that were forged during it … An instinctive, intelligent, imaginative young woman’s wish for a beautiful wedding dress — or any kind of dress — is the most natural thing in the world. And I was honored to pick up the challenge and always will be.”
The New York Times
The other shadow from which Burton has had to come out from under is the one McQueen (Lee to friends) left behind, and though she honors her good friend’s legacy, she declares she’s ready for the next chapter. “I think I’ve probably spent too much time expressing an anxiety about Lee’s influence, but that’s coming to an end now and a new period is beginning,” she says. “I loved Lee, but he is gone. And the decisions I will make for this company have already been bold, I hope, and strong, and driven by a creative integrity that is finding its feet in new ways every day. Every great design house knows that legacy cannot be allowed to be a curse and must be a wonderful opportunity for invention. That’s where I am. That’s who we are.”
But despite her newfound confidence, don’t expect her role in the fashion world to change; she’s perfectly comfortable being herself. “I don’t look like a fashion person, I’m not cool and I always just loved people who are good at what they do,” she says. “I’m not interested in going to parties. I hate having my picture taken. When the Met Ball is happening I want to go through the back door.” That’s okay: Her clothes speak for themselves.
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