Alexander McQueen presents mycelium-inspired collection in first New York show in 20 years

British brand unveiled its latest creations in a Brooklyn warehouse this week

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The Alexander McQueen design team were already marvelling at the connective properties of mycelium, the expansive, thread-like fungal networks that spawn mushrooms. And then they came across a giant oyster mushroom sprouting from the concrete floor of an abandoned space on the fifth floor of their London office block. It felt like a sign.

So mycelium became the reference point for the brand’s autumn/winter 2022 collection, which was unveiled in New York on Tuesday. This was Alexander McQueen’s first show in the city in more than two decades and, in keeping with the overarching theme, represented an opportunity to reconnect, said creative director Sarah Burton in her show notes.

“I am so happy to be back in New York, a city that has always been close to our hearts. We showed the Dante collection here in 1996, and then came again with Eye in the autumn of 1999. It is part of our community, a place that has always welcomed us, and this season I want to honour that.

“So, this collection is inspired by that idea of community, and specifically by mycelium, by the reality of nature as a community that is far, far older than we are,” Burton elaborated. “Mycelium connects even the rooftop of the tallest skyscraper to the plants, to the grass, to the ground, to animals and to human beings."

Mycelium has become quite the star in fashion circles. “The future of fashion is fungi,” according to California’s start-up MycoWorks, which has produced a vegan, mycelium-based leather, trademarked as Sylvania, that has been used to make a new Hermes bag.

Stella McCartney has also been creating clothing and bags out of mycelium leather, while mushrooms have become an essential component in skincare. Meanwhile, one of the most enthusiastically reviewed books of 2021, Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake, was all about fungi.

"Mycelium has the most profound, interconnecting power, relaying messages through a magical underground structure, allowing trees to reach out to each other when either they or their young need help or are sick. The idea is humbling — beautiful — and, of course, a metaphor for interconnection and for community between people, between us all," said Burton.

She staged her New York return in the industrial Agger Fish Building in Brooklyn, outside of the confines of the traditional fashion week schedule. Within this most urban of locales, she invited her audience to reconsider their relationship with nature — and with each other.

“We exist as single, individual entities on one level, but we are far more powerful connected to each other, to our families, to our friends, to our community. Given everything that has happened over the past two years, that seems more important than ever. As a community we are infinitely more able to restore, reinvent, rejuvenate — heal.”

The Brooklyn setting was a nod to the brand’s roots, a reminder that while it may be a luxury powerhouse, its foundations were laid on the gritty, subversive streets of London and interwoven with punk culture.

The show was timed to capitalise on New York’s distinct evening light, which filtered in through the warehouse’s expansive windows. A makeshift runway wound its way around giant mounds of wood chips, all harvested from trees that had fallen naturally, Burton assured press after the show.

The smell of peat permeated the space, while the sounds of birds and insects played in the background as guests — which included supermodel Helena Christensen, actresses Danai Gurira and Letitia Wright, Tik-Tok star Avani Gregg and, from the Middle East, entrepreneur Karen Wazen — took their seats.

The giant mounds — painstakingly assembled by architect Smiljan Radic, the man responsible for designing the brand’s distinctive, nature-inspired stores — emitted a sense of earthiness, setting the tone for a collection that featured mushroom motifs and spore-like detailing.

Multi-hued mushrooms were emblazoned across fraying knitwear, with untethered strands of wool creating a sense of three-dimensionality and movement. A jacquard dress in red, white and black was covered in tiny spore-like extrusions, coupled with zips at the waist, shoulders and hem. Psychedelic shades of acid green, neon yellow and rich red were lifted directly from photographs of fungi and set on immaculately tailored suits and leather coats.

The contours and ridges of oyster mushrooms were referenced in the ruffled neckline of a black poly faille dress and also, most notably, in a crystal-encrusted look modelled on the runway by Kaia Gerber. The metallic one-shouldered dress featured silver beading and embroidery on an invisible tulle base, creating an intricate and sculptural homage to the humble fungus. Elsewhere, webs of mycelium were rendered in crystal on a sheer dress topped with voluminous, long-sleeved, double-layered tulle sleeves.

Beyond the mycelium references, the collection offered a conscious distillation of house codes. There was the flawless tailoring and finely tuned tension between masculine and feminine; the interplay between sharp lines and voluminous silhouettes; and punk-inspired touches that ranged from chunky chains to buckled boots and oversized zips.

A series of new bags made their debut, from the oversized Bow bag in bright green and red leather, to a micro-jewelled satchel in black leather with silver studs. Jewellery extended from chunky chokers to ear hooks, double-chain necklaces and oversized charms crafted from molten metal.

With the sounds of The Cure’s A Forest playing in the background, the show opened with a leather bustier dress with a draped skirt and corset-inspired detailing. A boxy, double-breasted coat followed. Made from mohair, a material more commonly associated with men’s suiting, and topped with a military-style belt, it exemplified the juxtaposition of masculine and feminine.

But the feminine slant ultimately won out this season, with the chunky boots of spring/summer 2022 replaced by more and higher heels, including the Harness pumps, which combine silver metal toe-caps with pin heels. Skirts and dresses all featured deep slits, adding a further touch of femininity. Corset-inspired detailing on dresses and large belts on coats accentuated the waist, complementing the female form.

Double-knitted bandage tops were designed to embrace the body, while leather jackets came oversized, with symmetrical zip details running up the sleeves, or strategically cropped to show a flash of back. Notably, 85 per cent of the collection was produced from sustainable and recyclable fabrics, including ruffled, deconstructed corset dresses in sunshine yellow, khaki green and luminous orange poly faille, a mix of recycled silk and tulle.

A handful of looks used a printed fabric that nodded to house founder Lee McQueen’s Collection No. 13, when a dress worn by Shalom Harlow was famously spray-painted by robots on stage. Like the invisible but impregnable threads of mycelium, Burton’s autumn/winter 2022 collection connected the brand’s roots to the needs of the present. Her message of connectivity and community is bound to resonate, as are these latest creations.

Updated: March 17, 2022, 8:17 AM