PARIS – Sarah Burton had big boots to fill when she took up Alexander McQueen's mantle in May but she rose up to the challenge with her first solo collection presented at Paris fashion week on Tuesday, critics said.
Burton, who was McQueen's right hand woman before he committed suicide in February, had four months to produce and present a spring/summer collection and many wondered if she would remain faithful to the McQueen spirit and codes.
Which she clearly did.
"I really liked it because what we saw was really McQueen," Alexandra Golovanoff, a well-known Paris-based fashion expert and TV presenter told Reuters.
"This woman is intelligent and respectful of the heritage. She is a little less exuberant than McQueen and that is good. I think what she showed us tonight is encouraging."
Just like McQueen, Burton used unexpected materials.
Striking pieces included a straw dress with rows of sprouting wheat round the waist, a ballgown in ostrich feathers, one in peacock feathers and a short dress made from a collage of fake butterflies, with assorted butterfly-decorated stilettos.
"I thought it was very emotional," said Robert Polet, Chief Executive of Gucci Group, which acquired 51 percent of McQueen 10 years ago. The Gucci Group is part of the French retail and luxury group PPR.
After McQueen's death in February, it was not clear if the brand would survive as the market was full of brands struggling to find a voice after parting ways with their founder.
Gucci Group pledged to continue developing the McQueen brand after the designer's death and sought continuity by appointing Burton who had worked with him since graduating from London's Central Saint Martins.
"She does the brand well," Polet told Reuters. "She has been working with him for 14 years, so she is a little bit Alexander McQueen. For a first time, I think that's a thumbs up!"
Some critics noted there were now more famous fashion labels without their original creator than some still headed by it.
But if some are still battling to win support from customers and critics, examples of success include Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, John Galliano at Christian Dior, Alber Elbaz at Lanvin and Nicolas Ghesquiere at Balenciaga.
Lee Alexander McQueen was widely regarded as one of the world's most provocative and respected designers who was not afraid of creating raw emotions through his dresses.
Burton made use of McQueen's traditional wild animal prints, golden embroideries and frayed cuts.
But she also put her stamp on the brand by producing a few soft, romantic all-white suits and gowns with cascading ruffles.
She told Women's Wear Daily last week she planned to move away from McQueen's theatrics and her designs would be softer, with "less angst."
But many fans walked out of the her show, with a lump in their throat, having had the impression McQueen was still alive -- which was probably what Burton also wanted.