This has been a difficult year for the fashion industry. There was the closure of Christian Lacroix, the deaths of models Tom Nicon and Daul Kim and - probably the most shocking of all - the loss of Alexander McQueen. People love to ridicule designers and the pomp that surrounds fashion, but no one who ever attended a McQueen show could ever again believe that fashion is unimportant. His clothes had the ability to divide a crowd in the manner of Marmite because of their, at times, shocking aesthetics. Yet his technical genius, eclectic choices and admirable eccentricity were undeniable.
His sudden death in February at 40 left the future of the fashion house in doubt. Following in his footsteps was never going to be easy. This week, Sarah Burton, McQueen's right-hand woman for the past 15 years(the only hire he ever made from an internship), revealed her first collection for the label since becoming creative director. I used to work for Burton, and when I heard she was taking over, my first thought was, "If anyone can continue his legacy, she can". But even though she worked with McQueen for so many years, trying to fill his shoes is a huge and brave move that could mean a career setback.
The press has been hungry to watch her fall and McQueen's loyal fans made it clear it was inappropriate to launch a collection while the wounds from his untimely death were still so raw. But last week in Paris she proved them wrong, or at least appeased them for now, with a collection that put the label exactly where it needs to be - still McQueen but a new, softer version. While she may have lacked the angst and raw aggression that was unmistakably McQueen, Burton did the perfect job of continuing to deliver some wonderfully eclectic showpieces (the house speciality) - including a structured dress made from hand-made, painted, feather butterflies, and another made from leather that resembled falling ivy leaves - while managing to put her own feminine and ethereal stamp on things. The general feeling of the collection, whose theme was decay, followed the standard McQueen silhouette - the strong shoulder, the exaggerated hips and the sheer volume - but there was a transition towards moving McQueen's original vision into something more commercially viable.
Burton achieved something outstanding with her first collection. There is no doubt she has given herself a safe benchmark from which to develop, and perhaps even give herself a name under the cloud of McQueen that will of course remain for some time to come. And as the models lined up for the finale to a soundtrack of The Jackson 5's I'll Be There, I thought: You know what? You just might be.