'Handcrafted Heritage'. To be frank, those are the last words that leap to mind when confronted with Burberry Prorsum, the very definition of a twenty-first century luxury-goods behemoth so finely-tuned it can churn out its collections straight after the catwalk show for instant reflex pre-order. It's the luxury-good equivalent of the impulse purchase: been there, seen the film, bought the t-shirt (or four-figure overcoat).
However, that's starting to seem old-hat. Hence the clever about-face by Bailey & co. If the gloss on Burberry had become a little too perfect, spring 2012 was the time to rough it up a little. That's where that 'handcraft' idea came in - this collection was detailed to the nth degree, weathered, beaten-up and worn-in. Raffia was an odd choice: we know Bailey loves a grungy young hipster, and maybe he'd been inspired by the hand-woven straw moccasins and panama hats sported in many an east village/east London hangout? Regardless, like a fashion Rumpelstiltskin, Bailey spun that straw into gold - the retail gold of colourful tote-bags, cork-soled loafers, baker-boy caps and even a few roomy caban coats and trenches. It takes a deft hand to avoid all that raffia looking like the models cross-bred with a particularly unattractive waste-paper basket, but the Burberry team passed with flying colours. Their other fabric choices had a similar touch of humanity to them: slub linen, raw denim, brilliantly printed fabrics that resembled Ikat or Dutch wax, and plenty of Fair Isle. Some even came embellished with plates of ceramic, like a fusion of Fair Isle and medieval armour.
Some of that felt vaguely African - but very vaguely, the well dressed Englishman abroad evoked say in the contrast of brilliant orange trim on ochre trench, or a few over-dyed cotton short-and-shirt combos (Bailey managed to stop those veering too far into Hawaiian territory - a rare feat). Overall, what you were left with was a feeling of how refreshingly genuine and honest this collection was. Rather than gilding their lily even further and adding another zero to the profits through sick, slick and mindless brand exploitation, the Burberry team stepped back from their status as a global conglomerate and injected a feeling of the human hand into this show. That is what made it such a pleasure to watch. Of course, the entire kit and caboodle was up for sale on Burberry.com mere minutes after the show was over. But when collection comes across as filled with passion, affection and, dare we say, emotion, it makes that hard sell that much easier.