Is catering to as many as possible helping Burberry’s image?
Two days before the Burberry show in London, we were in the ION Orchard store, looking at the AW 2019 pieces when a tall, Chinese, hipster-looking man walked in. He was dressed in an oversized shirt that sported the recognisable Burberry Nova check (once known pejoratively as the “chav check”—chav is just about the British answer to our beng/lian). His pants were possibly divorced from a track suit and his shoes, a designer hunk of kicks. He took a quick spin and left the store in less than three minutes from the time he strolled in. It is not immoderate to assume that he is a super fan of Burberry (he seemed to know the space like his living room), but later, outside Gucci, we heard him telling his female companion, when asked about his visit to the English label’s swanky store, “没什么” (there was nothing).
It is, of course, not possible to say that the man spoke for all who walked into Burberry, but we were there at the same time as he was, and we saw what he saw, and to some extent, we concurred. We didn’t know what he was looking for or wishing to buy (perhaps more of the check—this season, in different shades and then colour-blocked, but may not outdo the T-B logo designed by Peter Saville), but we did know what we did not receive/feel: a thrill, not even a tinge of a tingle that might have made us put our hands out to perform a shopping ritual such as touch.
It is quite hard, even after three seasons, to determine if Riccardo Tisci has revved up the strength and thrust left behind by predecessor Christopher Bailey—a momentum that The Guardian noted early last year as Mr Bailey was to leave the company he spent 17 years with, “had a halo effect on the rest of British fashion”. Even just a year on, times are different, and London Fashion Week continues to see strong showing by J W Anderson, Richard Quinn, and Craig Green. It is, therefore, hard to imagine that these designers would need to stand on the strength of Burberry to build or project theirs.
This season, as in the past three, there is a lot to see and unpack, but the 109 looks (not the most, compared to Mr Tisci’s first of a staggering 135) don’t encourage repeat viewing. But we did look again: to see if, perhaps, there is now a perceptible Britishness to the styling that we had come to associate with the Burberry before Mr Tisci’s tenure. Trench coats aside, it was hard to place what was sent out on the runway as anything that might suggest Britannia, cool or not. In fact, the designer seems to have crawled back into his Italian shell, reminding us that he once designed for Givenchy, while throwing in some Hermès (-like scarves) for good measure.
The tailoring is sharp and on point (the trousers and pencil skirts will be winners in the store and the men’s suit will attract the likes of entertainment lawyer Samuel Seow). The statement sleeves make a strong come-back. The rugby shirt (for both sexes) get star billing. The gingham check takes the place of the Nova. The white Victorian lace (and some in dove grey), with one dress saying “B, I am a unicorn” will not appeal to the straitlaced. On the other hand, the permutations of the T-shirt, with some sporting a blunt, pointed bottom similar to a bodysuit’s, will no doubt win over street-style devotees. Not to be outdone are the hijab and the sparkly-mesh face veil for men, both with firm places in a world of fashion now characterised by diversity and inclusiveness. In all, they suggest that Mr Tisci is having a field day bringing together a bit of everything for everyone. Does Burberry need to be so crowd-pleasing?
Since the discontinuation of the Prorsum collection in 2015 so that Burberry is one unified brand rather than separate sub-lines (London and Brit are the other two), the name once associated with trench coats has veered towards catering to the just-affluent, not only the ultra-affluent—including those not quite (or yet) wealthy, but wish to appear so; which, to us, sounds suspiciously like Louis Vuitton territory. This constitutes a large part of today’s luxury consumption: fashion for the multitude. If nothing, it would be fascinating to see how Burberry can reach one and all, and far and wide, including, as inclusivity requires, the chavs—Cara Delevingne and Harry Styles already counted.