McQueen's white gowns feed royal rumours

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More than evaluating the clothes themselves, guests at the Alexander McQueen show Tuesday were searching for clues, any evidence that would confirm rumors the label's new creative director, Sarah Burton, has been chosen to design the wedding dress in which Prince William's fiancee Kate Middleton will transform from commoner into royalty.

The story came out in Britain's Sunday Times and has sparked extensive speculation in the fashion world, despite the fact that both Burton and the label's chief executive have denied the claim.

So, a collective shiver swept the crowd when the first model at the label's fall-winter 2011-12 ready-to-wear show Tuesday emerged in all-white. A volley of meaningful glances shot around the room as the looks that followed - fur-trimmed pencil skirts and nipped-waist jackets with zippers in lieu of seams - were also in head-to-toe white.

The clincher, for many of the fashion insiders in the room, were the two tulle-covered gowns that closed the show, which looked - drum roll please - suspiciously like wedding dresses.

No matter that the collection also included a fair share of black, not to mention plentiful hardcore bondage touches, like the sculptural leather horse harnesses that encircled some of the looks and stood a fair chance of raising an eyebrow or two in palace protocol.

With whoever was chosen to design the dress bound by a strict confidentiality agreement, it looked unlikely that the secret would come out before Middleton walks down the aisle on April 29.

Still, those rooting for Burton - who was appointed the label's creative director after founder Alexander McQueen committed suicide early last year - saw Tuesday's collection as a good omen.

Asked whether he thought the rumors would prove true, Andre Leon Talley, replied "I hope so."

"If she were dressed by Ms. Burton, she'd make a beautiful bride," the legendary editor at American Vogue told The Associated Press in a post-show interview, adding Tuesday's was "an exceptional collection."

It was Burton's second collection since she stepped into McQueen's immense shoes. Burton, 36, had worked closely with McQueen for years, and her debut collection, shown last October, was lauded by the press as channelling the creative genius of the late, great designer.

Critics praised that nature-themed collection for softening McQueen's signature hard edges and letting out his painfully nipped waists by a notch. But the McQueen woman will have to suck it in again next winter to wriggle into the any of the extreme looks from Tuesday's collection, which again tightened the screws on the house's sharp-edged silhouette.

The collection won among the strongest reactions of any of this season's Paris shows, with the audience hooting, cheering and whistling its enthusiastic approval as Burton ducked out for a bow.

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