Christopher Bailey understands the importance of a single brand message - its how he's dragged Burberry from the commercial and creative doldrums and made its high-end Prorsum line a must-see across two fashion capitals. Hence it always makes sense to compare and contrast his offerings for men and women. This time, he made the comparison easy, with a selection of looks from his June Milan menswear making a reappearance alongside the latest women's offerings.
If Bailey's menswear dressed the grungy frontman of an east London band, the S/S 2011 Burberry Prorsum girl is an unashamed groupie - with the thigh-high, glitter-flecked wardrobe to match. Well, at least for evening - by contrast, daywear was serviceable and rather dull, revolving naturally around Bailey's endless reworking of the humble trench. This time, it was chopped into a waisted peplum jacket and crossed with a Perfecto, the hybrid criss-crossed with quilting across the hips and jutting over the models' flanks. Some came leather-bound panels, others sprouted contrast leather sleeves complete with motorcycle armour or pricked with thousands of savage studs, thrown over simple stiff satin shifts in acid brights and cinched with bright patent belts. Those youthquake updates on Burberry's heritage were just the tip of the iceberg, heralding a slew of rock chick styling, from ruffled silk dresses strapped with leather harnesses, to mini-dresses in lurid, multicoloured animal prints and heavy metal-embellished biker boleros in python and thick calfskin. Here, Bailey's canny compare-and-contrast trick backfired. The men looked eminently chicer in their worn-out and worn-in tees, boots and studded leathers than the girls in overdone sleazy leopard, glitter-crusted jackets and teetering, tottering heels that sent more than one model sprawling across the catwalk.
It was all rather incongruous with scrubbed-face and quintessentially British freshness of the Burberry image - which, although youthful, has never felt quite so exclusively - and excluding-ly - young. It was easy to imagine hip east London types gleefully and ironically donning Bailey's reclamations of the sexy (read: slutty) attire so beloved of 'Band Aids', to borrow a euphemism from self-declared Supergroupie Pamela Des Barres. But, to quote from Dolly Parton, it takes a lot of money to look this cheap - and I highly doubt this is a look Burberry's moneyed and cultured customers will be willing to pay for.