They say a country that loses its crafts loses its soul. Did Christopher Bailey perhaps feel the same way about his Burberry Prorsum collections? How else to account for the volte-face that started back in June in Milan, when Bailey twisted Burberry from the future to the past, moving away from the slick overproduced excesses of the past towards something more grounded and more real.
Well, kind of. The Burberry Prorsum show was still the glossiest in London, live streamed and tweeted ad infinitum, the brand message distilled, dissected and dispersed within a nanosecond of its appearance on the catwalk. At the same time, however, these clothes worked against those digital age principles. They were multi-faceted, intricately crafted and layered, their detail impossible to take in at first glance. Bailey evidently felt the need to inject the feel of the human hand back into his clothing. The idea of Burberry's wares being mass-produced and stockpiled has prevailed over the past few seasons - it's difficult to get caught up in the moment when you realise that the moment has been dreamed up months, even years, in advance, the clothing manufactured and offered for immediate pre-order right after the catwalk broadcast. That didn't change for spring 2012, it's much too lucrative a business method to mess with. But the clothes nevertheless felt more human than in previous seasons.
What was human was the handiwork - and indeed, much of what Bailey offered had been worked by hand. The fettered raffia tufted like fur, passementerie trims edging trenches and straw woven into hold-alls, wedge heels and pom-pom topped titters screamed arts and crafts, just like the dutch wax fabric in brilliant shades of evergreen, terracotta and teal. They were whipped into fitted skirts and waisted jackets with puffy peplums, not exactly simple, but uncomplicated and certainly unfussy. Was it coincidental that those shapes, alongside the full-skirted dirndls and tightly-belted trenches, had an air of fifties couture, another hand-crafted reference?
Running through all the techniques used in Bailey's collection would prove futile, mainly because you'd be bound to miss something. The take-away was what mattered, and that was Bailey shifting the juggernaut of Burberry in tune with times that seem more caring, less commercial and less crass. Today, if you're paying through the nose for your fashion, you want it with a bit of soul and that's exactly what Burberry was selling us today. Looks like it's worth investing in.