Sarah Burton On Guilty Pleasures, Downton Abbey, & Lessons From Lee

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Sarah Burton Big This week has been a huge one for San Francisco when it comes to fashion celebrity sightings, and it's all thanks to the Academy of Art University's stellar BFA show, which went down last night. Sitting front row were none other than Alexander McQueen creative director Sarah Burton, star milliner Philip Treacy, iconic fashion journalists Suzy Menkes and Cathy Horyn, and Saudi Princess Reema Bandar Al-Saud, to name just a few.

Of course, the biggest draw of all was the elusive Burton, who was first introduced to McQueen by the AAU's fashion school director Simon Ungless, who launched the label with the late designer in the early '90s. Luckily, R29 got plenty of QT with the esteemed crew throughout the week and caught up with Burton before the lights went up on the fantastic student show. Check out Burton's thoughts on her glowing reviews, S.F.-based mentor, and the Met Ball (mum's still the word on who she's dressing!) right here.


Philip Treacy told us that you got to do a little shopping in San Francisco, including buying stuff at the African shop in Hayes Valley. Will we see any African influences creep into McQueen in the future?
"I'm not sure yet, but it was great. They have beautiful pieces in there. And it was really inspiring. It was nice to get out and about between events. We also got to walk past these beautiful Victorian houses and the Painted Ladies and that was very beautiful."

You're heading to the Met Ball in New York next to see the Schiaparelli and Prada exhibit. Was Schiap an influence for you?
"I often look to Schiaparelli. I think she was an incredibly inspiring designer. We've had her on our research boards many times."

Obviously, you're a high-fashion designer and work in sort of an elevated artistic space. Do you have any low-brow interests?
"I think it's really important that you get your inspiration from everywhere. Lee taught me that you should be inspired by everything that's going on around you. There's no snobbery in inspiration. It can be something on the telly or something you see in the street or in a book or a museum."

Do you have anything especially seedy that you indulge in? Do you watch reality television or Downton Abbey?
"I do! I watch Downton Abbey, I watch all kinds of things. It just depends what's on when you get in. It could be news night, it could be Downton Abbey, it just depends."

Since taking the reins at McQueen, you've received fantastic reviews and awards. Do you care about all of that? Do you read the reviews?
"I think when you start a collection, you do what you love and what you believe in. And you have to push yourself. Of course it's interesting to look at the reviews and you have to take on board what people are saying and take in all the criticism. But when you design a collection, you have to start with what you love and what you believe in. Unless you do that, you can't stand behind it, so there's no point in doing it anyway."

Simon Ungless has been a huge influence in your life and introduced you to Lee. How has it been reuniting these past few days?
"He's just incredible. And it's been amazing to see the passion that he gave me and he's given that to all of these students here. So, it's quite moving to see him in this environment and see him inspire so many people."

What's the one piece of advice you'd give these budding designers?
"Do what you love and believe in, and work hard."

Photo: Via Alexander McQueen/David Burton