There’s a fierceness to life lived at the mercy of the nature’s volatility and a raw sensuality. It has inspired artists, writers and just plain romantics for centuries. Alexander McQueen’s Sarah Burton recently visited the Shetland, a rugged cluster of Scottish islands. She found a wealth of material that she channeled into her breathtaking spring collection.

Burton may be a romantic at heart, but she’s no softy. Her lyrical aesthetic depends upon the complicated interplay of tender and tough that more often than not plays out on her runway. So it was with her exquisite spring show. She showed in a new venue, an orangery at the Luxembourg gardens in which she had installed a voluptuous, bumpy runway intended to reference rugged island terrain. This was covered in hundreds of small, overlapping patterned carpets, a reference to the Shetland wedding tradition of sewing together the rugs of two families to celebrate their union.

As a designer, Burton is both storyteller and champion of craft. Here, she celebrated the artisanal wonders native to Shetland, both sturdy, colorful sweater knits and diaphanous, intricate laces, thin enough, as the legend goes, to be pulled through a wedding ring. She crafted the latter into beguiling tops and dresses, delicate as a whisper. Sturdier knits featured powerful patchworks of traditional Fair Isle-inspired patterns. There were also dresses in humble cotton voile prints. Her story was of naturally gentle women hardened by circumstance. Even at their most wistful, they took on the markings of tribalism kilt hardware embellished leather harness or belt; a more recent tribal insignia, a biker jacket. For her tailoring, Burton worked in dark Celtic checks, their lack of color emphasizing the shape and defiant attitude of, for example, a precisely cut jacket over kilt over trousers.

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