'Maybe I didn't treat you quite as good as I should have,' sung Neil Tennant of the Pet Shop Boys on the Burberry soundtrack as a model in a Burberry check cap and a clear plastic mac walked out. You could read it as an apology to those largely working class communities who adopted the checked look back in the early 2000s. 'Their distinctive beige check, once associated with A-listers, has now become the uniform of a rather different social group: the so-called Chav,' said the BBC of Burberry at the time. Outraged, the brand slashed availability of the pattern. In 2000 it was on about a fifth of all products, by 2004 it was on less that 5% as they tried to reassert their lofty credentials and turn their back on wearers like EastEnders actress Danniella Westbook, who went out in 2002 wearing a Burberry mini-kilt, while carrying a Burberry handbag and wheeling a Burberry pram. The pram contained a baby, also dressed in the check. There was plenty on offer for Westbrook at today’s show - checked caps, windbreakers, macs and giant tote bags. The Burberry check is culturally loaded - it’s a lone checked cap that appears on the cover of Owen Jones’ important 2011 book Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class. It's now on the cover of Dazed & Confused worn by the well-heeled Adwoa Aboah.
The fashion pack have moved on from demonizing the working classes into a period of 'celebrating' them. But there’s a fine line between celebration and appropriation. Sure, the check is Burberry’s property through and through, but today’s look felt a bit Common People, a bit poverty porn. Right now, brands love to embrace bad taste or mass items ironically - think Vetements and Balenciaga with those Ikea bags or Juicy Couture tracksuits - but it can make for uncomfortable viewing. Who’s laughing at who? Burberry needed a reboot, so it makes sense that they have shifted gear a bit and embraced humour, clutter, and the general fetishisation of the 'street' and the working classes that runs through fashion. In their last advertising campaign they cast the handsome skateboarder Blondey McCoy to sport their wares. He’s better known for hanging around the Southbank with the rest of the Palace skateboards crew. He looks great in trainers and tracksuits. He has a gold tooth. He’s exactly the kind of person Burberry wouldn’t have wanted wearing their stuff just ten years ago. How times change. Today, they’re courting the same audience who queue for hours to buy Palace or Vuitton/Supreme.
Largely, this collection was a styling exercise. Gorgeous glittering single earrings helped give looks punch. Plastic macs suggested pack-a-macs bought for a pound when it’s set to rain. Oversized tartan scarfs and military details added to the intended mood of eccentric Britishness - a tour through UK culture. Really it was a tour through the contemporary fashion landscape - a bit Raf (those knitted tanks and flares), a touch Vetements (those giant totes and caps), a lot Gucci. Burberry now sells direct from the runway. As I type this, a worldwide audience is paying through the nose for those caps and macs. So it makes sense that they aren’t trying to innovate, but rather react to what fashion is doing right now.