In the days leading up to Kate Middleton’s wedding to Prince William, the frenzy about who exactly was the designer favored with the task of creating the royal wedding dress became nothing short of an international obsession.
Incredibly, given the notoriously gossipy habits of the fashion world, and even in the era of Twitter and smartphones, this was a leak that Julian Assange himself wouldn’t have been able to find.
The closest anyone got to solving the mystery before Kate actually walked down the aisle in her ethereal, ivory satin McQueen fantasy was the eagle-eyed then–Telegraph fashion editor, Hilary Alexander. She bravely put her head above the parapet by (correctly) declaring that the woman scuttling into Kate’s hotel the day before the wedding was Sarah Burton—the creative director of McQueen who took over at the label after the death of the designer in February 2010.
Burton was wearing a huge fur trapper hat to conceal her identity, but, amazingly, Alexander positively identified Burton on the basis of her "distinctive studded leather belt doubled through the belt loops of her jeans" and her flat "ballet pumps."
“It was so great to actually keep a secret, especially in this day and age when everyone talks about everything,” she told the magazine.
Nobody but a “core team” was told that Burton was doing the job, Burton was not allowed to tell her own parents, and the dress was constructed entirely off-site.
Vogue writer Sarah Harris says that “the small matter of a major Alexander McQueen retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art just four days later (Savage Beauty attracted a record 660,000 visitors) proved the ideal cover-up as Burton shuttled back and forth between fittings.”
Burton tells Vogue, "Because my core team knew, it was OK for me to disappear and come back, then disappear again. But I remember other people asking me, 'Are you coming in on Friday?’ And I'd say, ‘Oh, yeah, see you in the morning.’ I'd be scheduling meetings knowing full well I wasn't going to be there for them."
Harris writes, “On the day, Burton could be glimpsed at the Abbey entrance, adjusting the bride’s [nine-foot] train. It’s this friendly, hands-on approach which no doubt reassured Catherine Middleton, who is said to have felt immediately comfortable with Burton, despite initial reservations about McQueen being the right choice.”
Burton says, “I remember standing in Westminster Abbey thinking, 'This is unreal.' It was like a fairy tale. And all I could think was, 'I hope I don't trip over.’ I didn't realize the enormity of it until much nearer the wedding day. It was a magical experience.”
Burton was not allowed to tell her own parents, and the dress was constructed entirely off-site.
Since the wedding dress, and the enormous quantities of requests that followed, Burton according to Harris, “harbors plans to structure the couture side of the business too.”
McQueen has never been hotter. In recent months, public figures such as Michelle Obama, Anne Hathaway, Anna Paquin, and Cate Blanchett have all been sighted in McQueen creations on the red carpet.
Burton talks in the interview about how she was initially reluctant to take on the job after Lee McQueen’s death.
“I definitely considered not taking this job. I was at such a loss, he was such a huge part of my life, my every day. I could finish his sentences, but I couldn’t finish anything, and that terrified me.” She adds, “I can’t do what Lee did. He was an incredible visionary with the shows, and that’s not what I do.”
Burton says, however, that the events since McQueen’s death have been remarkable. “Out of such terrible, tragic times and from under this dark cloud came that dress and that incredible exhibition, and it’s just been brilliant for the whole team, and so special to be a part of it.”
Sixty years and hardly a slip.