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Sarah Burton in British Vogue February 2011 on Almost Not Taking the Alexander McQueen Creative Director Position

When Hiring Sarah Burton, Alexander McQueen Asked If She Believed in UFOs

>> Sarah Burton started working for Alexander McQueen when he was based at a "tiny studio," she tells British Vogue in its February 2011 issue: "At the interview, I remember Lee asking me, 'Do you believe in UFOs?'"

She owes her design knowledge to McQueen, she says: "Everything I know, I learned here. If you didn't know how to do something, Lee made you take on the challenge and would teach you how, or leave you to figure out how to do it yourself. He once handed over a bias-cut houndstooth dress and said, 'Now, put a zip in it,' then left for the weekend!"

But despite that, and the fact that McQueen CEO Jonathan Akeroyd, Gucci Group CEO Robert Polet, and PPR CEO Francois-Henri Pinault all implored her to take the head job at McQueen's label after he died in February, 36-year-old Burton spent weeks deliberating the decision. "For quite a long time I didn't want the job," she explained. "I thought: how would I ever even begin to begin? Lee's mind was so different to everyone else's. I knew there was no way I could pretend to be him; but I had to ask myself, what did Lee work for? For all this to close down? I thought about what I wanted. What was best for me. Like many women my age, I do want children, but I came to think that that's not a reason not to take up a challenge. In the end, I decided to just get on with it: do my best."

There will, of course, be pieces of the McQueen legacy that will remain McQueen's alone. "I could not take on the shows!" Burton laughs. "But I wanted the catwalk to be intimate, to be about the craftsmanship, the designs. People ask: what's Sarah about? But I've worked here so long, there's been a big part of me in those collections all along the way. I'm not going to wipe the slate clean. That would be wiping me away. There will always be McQueen elements, but at the same time, you can never stay still and have to stay true to yourself. That's what Lee drummed into me: you have to be able to stand behind your work."

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