It sparked my interest to see a link posted on the Twitter account of St. Fagans National History Museum in Wales, leading to an online Vogue article. The two worlds of Welsh history and Vogue Magazine seem so far apart, and yet here was an article, explaining how the Alexander McQueen FW2020 collection was inspired by Sarah Burton’s visit to St. Fagans Museum in South Wales. Burton was inspired predominately by the Wrexham Tailor’s Quilt, which was created over a decade from 1842-1852, during the leisure hours of James Williams, who was a military master tailor. Williams used recycled fabric; a technique often adopted by Welsh people when creating dress. These pieces of fabric are a variety of felted woolen cloths, possibly off-cuts of broadcloth from military uniforms. Motifs on the quilt include scenes from the bible, including Noah’s ark, Jonah and the Whale, and the Garden of Eden’s Adam. Woven amongst these biblical scenes are also pieces of Welsh architecture, and this inclusion of Welsh architectural feats amongst biblical scenes reveal the status of Welsh pride and craft standard.
The dominant colours of the quilt are blue and red, as typically seen in Welsh textiles from the 19th Century, and grey, black and brown. The background of the quilt is made up of geometrical patterns of diamonds, squares and chevrons, in alternating colours, sometimes symmetrical on both sides or varying slightly in colour. In total, the Wrexham Tailor’s Quilt is compiled by 4,525 separate pieces of cloth. These aesthetic details from the colour, patchwork method, and figures depicted are quite easily spotted on Burton’s McQueen collection.
One suit appears as a ‘cool tone’ version of the quilt, decorated with the same panther motif. Another beautifully cut coat adopts the same geometric pattern and vivid colour palette as the quilt, while some dresses take a more subtle influence of drapery found in historic Welsh dress. The use of blankets used by Welsh women for protection and convenience of carrying babies are noted in the swathes of fabric used by Burton to adopt this past, cultural trend. The famed Welsh ‘love spoon’ can also be seen referenced in this collection, as Burton cuts the celtic decorative pattern into white lace love-hearts, as well as directly using the ‘wheel’ design in a red lace design, a symbol of support for a loved one. The earliest Welsh love spoon can be found at St Fagans, dated from 1667, although this was a tradition dating much further back from then. Welsh love spoons were given by suitors to their romantic interest, to demonstrate not only their love, but their skills in woodwork vital for providing a future income.
The Wrexham Tailor’s Quilt is a stunning representation of Welsh tailoring and recycling of fabrics to create beautifully patterned designs. The pride of Welsh heritage has often been expressed through nostalgia, this new collection by Burton encourages a modern and refreshed Welsh pride for the future, and a recognition of the inspired designs and skills of historic Welsh dress. Alexander McQueen’s inspiration highlights the beauty of Welsh textile patterns and recycling of fabric. It offers a new perspective on how Welsh traditional dress can be used in the present and distanced from the romanticised tourist perception often presented as ‘traditional’ Welsh lady costume. Sarah Burton commented, ‘We went to Wales and were inspired by the warmth of its artistic and poetic heritage, by its folklore and the soul of its craft. The woman is courageous, grounded, bold: heroic. There is a sense of protection in the clothes, of safety and comfort, evoked through quilting and blankets. The hearts are a symbol of togetherness, of being there for others.’ (Sarah Burton, 2020) Alexander McQueen’s 2020 collection captures the ethos of Welsh dress and design, transcending the heart of the Wrexham Tailor’s Quilt into high fashion.
Phillips, Ellen, The Wrexham Tailors Quilt 1842-52, (National Museum Wales, 2 March 2020), https://museum.wales/articles/2020-03-02/The-Wrexham-Tailors-Quilt-1842-52
Cluley, Richard, Patchwork Bedcover, (National Museum Wales, 13 November 2019), https://museum.wales/collections/online/object/4ce80b8d-182e-3822-8038-54080af6b0b8/Patchwork-bedcover/field0=string&value0=quilt&field1=with_images&value1=1&field2=subject&value2=Wrexham%20Quilt&index=0
Burton, Sarah, Women’s Autumn/Winter 2020 Show, (Alexander McQueen Trading Limited, 2020) https://www.alexandermcqueen.com/experience/en/womens-autumn-winter-2020-show/
Bowles, Hamish, https://www.vogue.com/fashion-shows/fall-2020-ready-to-wear/alexander-mcqueen, (Paris, March 2, 2020)