Burberry began with a blank slate, literally: sending out thick tiles of white ceramic as invites to its first official see now, buy now catwalk presentation. This is a moment of monumental change for the brand, which has reported falling profits amid a challenging market, so it was out with the old, and in with the new(ish). Gone was the grand marquee in Kensington Gardens, and in its place a show venue secreted away down a side street in Soho, an area rife with gentrification but not yet the salubrious spot you’d expect from a company with revenues in the billions.
But it’s amazing what a bit of mise-en-scène can achieve, and as guests entered through a courtyard filled with an abundance of foliage and statues, they were transported. Inside the venue, officially known as Makers House and open to the public later this week, all manner of arts and craftsmen and women were showcasing the modern way in which they use traditional techniques. A calligrapher here, a sculptor there, and a tassel-maker betwixt the two.
Burberry chief creative officer Christopher Bailey cited Virginia Woolf’s Orlando as inspiration, calling it 'a treasury of ideas… a kind-of dressing-up box to visit and re-visit, and in which to find inspiration.'
The novel’s expansive historical setting and the protagonist’s overlapping male and female identities were explored through traditional codes of British dress, with everything from silk striped pyjamas to military outerwear and ruffle-trimmed shirting. All was worked in a louche, relaxed fit that suited both female and male models, bringing a dandyism to the latter, while a seriously exaggerated shoulder landed less successfully. There was a whiff of the country house party in chunky rib knits and tapestry jacquards, with a hint of rock'n'roll rebellion provided by cut-out platform boots, guitar strap bags and - on one of the famous trenches - leopard print leg of mutton sleeves. None of these motifs are new, but many hit the mark.
Bailey’s collections often suffer from a glut of inspiration, of too many ideas overworked and overwrought. But, perhaps ensuring that every single piece shown was available to buy immediately meant that he was forced to practice a new restraint, maybe he was influenced by the intimacy of the venue or maybe this collection is a sign of palpable relief at stepping down from his role as CEO, an unusual dual role that never made much sense to outsiders. Whatever, it seemed to work. Certainly the clothes benefited: in fact this was one of Bailey’s best Burberry collections in years.