I’ve yet to write extensively about Burberry on the blog before. Why? They’re the big razz ma tazz tent of a flagship British brand that rolls into town come London Fashion Week, into which I race in, huffing and panting because inevitably some traffic disaster has made late. I plonk myself on a seat, the show starts immediately (on time), a very very loud soundtrack blares out (sometimes live, sometimes not) and out comes a troop of trenches and then there’s some confetti moment at the end. It’s over in a blur and resides in my mind often as a blur. What else could I add that Tim Blanks, Alex Fury and Sarah Mower can not? So it’s been a brand watched from afar as they sped up, digitised, and pushed the industry into a social media initiative overdrive.
Burberry September, as they’re now calling it, would be a different beast. Last Saturday on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, I openly expressed my scepticism over see-now-buy-now, summing up in short what I also said in this Vogue.com interview I did, regarding the future of fashion a few months ago. I’m skeptical because I have qualms about how the pressure of delivering straight after the show and in the right quantities will affect the aesthetic merit of the clothes. Will collections be as creative and innovative as they can be, or will they simply be robotically designed and manufactured according to what the market demands, because sales will be monitored straight away? Furthermore, is it a model that every brand can and should adopt? What of young designers who don’t have the means to produce in advance and are taking a big financial risk by doing so?
Those questions still rage on but I did lay the hope of someone succeeding at see-now-buy-now at the hands of Burberry. They’re big enough. They’ve set agendas before. If they didn’t pull off this coup, then who would, you wondered. What I didn’t expect though was the all-encompassing experience that Burberry would serve up. One that touched you emotionally, quelled the nay-saying and more importantly, physically (and digitally) engaged with the non-industry onlooker. To the point where you would go have a gander at the store to check out the ruffled shirts or go online . Incidentally, I have anecdotal evidence to back it up. A day after the show, I was in Selfridges’ new Designer’s Studio to pick up a few new thangs (do check out their very brave, new-generation designer selection by the by) and a shop assistant who I wouldn’t have pegged as a Burberry fan, enthused about the show and talked about logging on the website to see what he could get his hands on.
I’ll leave the semantics of how Burberry’s take on see-now-buy-now is operating to this very useful Business of Fashion piece. The graphic of Burberry’s timetable in particular makes sense of how production will work, demonstrating a level of extreme time re-management, that needs to take place to actually make this work. What I was interested in was the process of seeing something and the inciting of desire to buy it immediately, coming from a place where I was previously content to wait for said desire to burnish and build up over a six month period. If something is great, it will remain great
Orlando was already an irresistible starting point but one that cleverly makes an inspiration catch-all for Christopher Bailey. Its themes of gender fluidity and an ageless narrative unshackled by time and history, means that all of the influences laid out so evocatively on the mood board that you see in one portion of Maker’s House – English stately homes, foppish imagery of the Bloomsbury set, 16th-17th century aristocratic portraiture, Colefax & Fowler-esque fabric swatches and embedded in amongst all of what seemed oldy-woldy and deathly traditional, the insouciant airs of more contemporary figures. All readied and mixed into a potent cauldron that would produce one of the most stirring Burberry shows that I’ve ever seen in person.
The notion of see-now-buy-now strikes fears of “easy” product in my mind. A textbook sweatshirt. A sellable coat. These things must shift straightaway, on the basis that collections in quantity have already been produced, so the pressure to perform is heightened. And yet in Burberry’s September collection, you found uncompromising aesthetic that when broken down still fell in line with their previous output. The military braided coats and jackets of seasons past looked more quietly regal, in an intimate setting, where there were centimetres rather than metres separating your eyes and the clothes. The English pyjama prints layered up with belted-cardis and Oxford shirts counteracted with the high-necked Elizabethan ruffs, embedded pearls and voluminous sleeves. Where Bailey had previously looked to the Bloomsbury literary scene for inspiration, those same muted tones of Vanessa Bell’s Charleston home felt tangible and covetable.
In effect we had seen many of these thematic explorations before but somehow, as one historical period seamlessly segued into the next, and scruff and splendour worked in harmony with one another, there was something that clicked. And it wasn’t just the sound of the Buy button (early analysis says Burberry are seeing the fruits of their see-now-buy-now labour). I immediately looked up the price of the gold tasselled boots for pure personal curiosity. It was an impulse aided by what looks to be an abundantly stocked e-commerce site.
You could deduce that my personal appreciation of the collection had much to do with the vastly smaller and changed-up format of the physical show, soundtracked by a live orchestra playing an original composition. That’s something that is often a shuttered off experience for the masses and one that is hard to communicate from still images and even high quality video alone. Step in the open doors of Makers House, residing in the former old Foyle’s bookstore building off Charing Cross Road. On the first floor, where the show played out, the clothes are there on mannequins for you to touch and feel. On the ground floor though is where Burberry has borrowed smatterings of other brands’ experiential-based exhibitions (Chanel, Louis Vuitton and Dior are all of course dab hands at this). Beyond a charming courtyard of sculptures and ivy and then into an abbreviated version of Thomas’ Cafe (I highly recommend the vicky sponge…), in partnership with The New Craftsmen, Burberry gathered up a lovely group of embroiders, passementeriers (the last remaining ones in London hand-making braided trims and tassels), patchworkers, sandcasters and more to demonstrate not necessarily the craft of the actual collection, but to celebrate these endeavours that echo Burberry’s own brand values.
We weren’t there to witness the making of the collection as we did at Chanel’s recent haute couture show but to marvel at niche crafts that incite emotions of nostalgia and curiosity. How you link up sandcasted jewellery and hexagonal patchwork cushions with the collection is entirely up to you. For me, it was a much more subtle and celebratory showcase of craft – one that wasn’t necessarily designed merely to schill product but instead to shout out about a fundamental aspect of craft today – that if you don’t raise awareness of say, Jessica Light’s handmade tassels or Rose de Borman’s silk screen prints (both available to buy in an on-site gift shop) then it’s likely their craft won’t likely survive. It was basically what entities like London Craft Week have been promoting, but of course it’s hard to parallel the backing of a brand like Burberry.
The programme of various craft demonstrations and events finishes up tomorrow and it will be even more interesting to see how many visitors the venue got and whether that visit, in turn led to a gander up to the flagship store on Regent’s Street. Maybe those of you who managed to make it down to Makers House can report back. If enough people went from live stream to Maker’s House to store or to the website, then I would consider a success from Burberry’s perspective. And as someone who has often felt like someone peering inside Burberry’s shiny windows, this felt like a re-assessment of sorts, where qualitative experience triumphed over the need to merely sell you something immediately.