Christopher Bailey showed his final collection in London two days ago. It was not the swan song of swan songs
This could be the most anticipated show of the London season, but we could not have known. Christopher Bailey bowed out of Burberry with his final presentation, but it wasn’t a give-it-to-them collection. It wasn’t even a best-of throwback. No one stood up when the models strutted their stuff for the finale. Only when Mr Bailey emerged for his customary runway bow did the audience rose to its feet. The man drew a standing ovation, not the clothes.
As farewell shows go, this one was rather low on moments. Sure, people were thrilled to see the rarely-on-catwalk-these-days Cara Delevingne close the show, being goofy, but what was that she was wearing? Costume from a school production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat? And what was Ms Delevingne wearing beneath that? Something to go to bed with, or to pick up the morning paper? Or was this deliberately anti-knock-out last dress, just as the show was anti-exit-with-a-bang display so that it will resound in the pages of final-show history?
This was meant to be a salute to LGBT+ youths everywhere, but it could easily be thumbs up to the “chavs” and “chavettes” (loosely, the British bengs and lians) that had once made Burberry many rungs below classy and deserving a makeover, which had led to Christopher Bailey taking the creative reigns of the 162-year-old British house. The checks that the chavs made crass were back in full glory (including those infamous caps). But it was the decidedly low-brow styling—boys and girls going about their mundane day in, possibly, east London, or even Ang Mo Kio—that made the clothes a tad too difficult to digest. Add those tired-by-now supermarket bags and you have a picture of a hipster heartland that is too much a parody to be cool and desirable.
Mr Bailey has long abandoned cool. The London cool associated with his Burberry (trench coats ruched at the shoulder), the English Rose and “Garden Girls” (full-lace tea dresses and floral prairie dresses), the ’60s edge (the autumn/winter 2011 collection inspired by Jean Shrimpton), Mr Bailey has ditched them. Like everyone else, he’s doing street, good and bad street. How else do you explain the (still) oversized Harrington jackets or Yonex-would-be-proud windbreakers? He’s also looking back at the ’90s. How else do you elucidate those multi-coloured embroidered logotype, so done-to-death by Kenzo’s Humberto Leon and Carol Lim, and so reminiscent of the knock-offs that once festooned the night market stalls of Bangkok’s Silom Road?
It did seem to us that Mr Bailey was doing a Marc Jacobs: He mined chav culture the way Mr Jacobs mines black culture or disco past. The hotchpotch was certainly there, so was the ’80s/’90s references and the sub-culture tags. Even the vast, somewhat bare show venue at the Dimco Building of West London was reminiscent of Mr Jacobs favourite Park Avenue Armoury. Even the music: No more live performances; just good old gay disco, courtesy of The Communards and Jimmy Somerville and a generous dash of the ever listenable Marc Almond.
Yes, they’re for the kids who have never seen and worn and dance in them before, we hear you say, but where does that leave the rest of us—we who do not want to muse over the past; who desire even the moderately new, the irreverent, the witty, the complex; we who think that, while fashion is cyclic, the cycle should take much longer to come full circle; we who think there’s too much fashion and much of it is like the other, so why bother? We understand that Burberry has to cater to those not yet bored, not yet satiated, not yet inducted, but isn’t there enough grassroots gaiety at Topshop?
Oh, the LGBT+ bit. “My final collection here at Burberry is dedicated to—and in support of—some of the best and brightest organisations supporting LGBTQ+ youths around the world,” Mr Bailey had said to the media. “There has never been a more important time to say that in our diversity lies our strength, and our creativity.” The recurrent motif in about half-a-dozen outfits was the rainbow flag/stripe. And if they seemed a little reductive in view how far gay people and their kindred kinds have come, it’s because there was something very gift shop by way of the Castro in San Francisco or the Chelsea in New York, circa 1988, in those bubble vest, coat, jacket, dress, bags, and trainers. You sort of half –aspect ‘Does Your Mother Know’ jokes emblazoned on T-shirts. We’re not sure if any of them is a good look, for gay or straight.
It could be that Mr Bailey was already in bow-out mood when assembling the collection, which, to us, was just a pastiche of stuff—a rambling thought, flashes of reflections, not the attentively conceived collection dedicated to Henry Moore (same time last year) that thrilled us so. Perhaps, he has indeed lost steam, as some observers had previously posited. This February collection is likely to remain linked to this month, to the end of a designer’s 17-year reign, and would date the moment we forget his departure. Maybe this wasn’t just Christopher Bailey’s last Burberry show; maybe this was his last laugh.
Photo: (top) Burberry/Youtube and (catwalk) Indigital.tv