Is Burberry pondering if Riccardo Tisci is still the right fit to take the brand soaring?
Riccardo Tisci with pal Kanye West after the Burberry spring/summer 2023 show in London. Screen shot: No Content/YouTube
Since the beginning of the month, there was chatter that the 166-year-old Burberry was looking to replace Riccardo Tisci, the Italian designer at the helm of the house since 2018. When August came to an end, Women’s Wear Daily reported that “Burberry is evaluating its options, and looking for a potential successor to (its) chief creative officer”. Mr Tisci’s contract expires early next year, so it is not premature for Burberry to go ahunting. But why was there not an excited announcement that Mr Tisci would be asked to stay on? Or was it he who did not wish to extend his contract? Despite the WWD story that quoted “industry sources” aware of the label’s executive search, Burberry said it would not respond to speculations.
When Riccardo Tisci was installed at Burberry in 2018, while the UK was messily moving towards Brexit, many observers and commentators were surprised by the appointment. Mr Tisci is not British; he is Italian. It was a time when national pride was palpable and placing a foreigner (one from an EU member state!) at a quintessentially British brand was not particularly ideal, especially after predecessor, the proud local lad Christopher Bailey, had reigned at the house (even serving as CEO) for 17 years (for Mr Tisci, it would be five when his contract ends next year). The Guardian described Mr Bailey as “the most successful British designer of his generation“. And now an Italian, formerly from a French house was taking over? But there was a non-Brit designer at Burberry earlier—an American-born Italian, Roberto Menichetti, from 1998 to 2001. There was never eye brows raised when Brits designed European brands, from John Galliano at Dior and now Margiela to Phoebe Philo at (old) Céline to JW Anderson at Loewe. They brought the brands they worked for critical and massive success.
Riccardo Tisci’s first Burberry show. Screen shot: Burberry/YouTube
Riccardo Tisci was thought to be able to bring a certain romance tempered by a punk sensibility (would the Rottweiler T-shirt for Givenchy influence his new work?) and his Catholic upbringing to Burberry. His first task was to introduce the freshly-minted TB logo (based on the initials of founder Thomas Burberry, and designed by Peter Saville), the brand’s first new symbol in 20 years. That was followed by the TB monogram (also designed by Mr Saville). Mr Tisci’s first collection for spring/summer 2019 was a staggering 134 looks on the runway. Why that many? Mr Tisci was quoted saying after the show that he was designing for “the mother and the daughter, the father and the son”. The plethora gave weak aesthetical clues as to where the designer was taking TB. Evening wear, not really associated with the brand, became a category to promote. By his second spring/summer collection (2020), the looks were modestly trimmed to 101, yet the collection could not scale the height of focus—still conceived to offer something for everyone. But were enough people blown over?
In the last two seasons or so, Riccardo Tisci has recalibrated his approach to interpreting Britishness by adding, rather than subtracting, and by going more outré. But somehow he was not able to effect the cool—London or elsewhere—that Christopher Bailey had so charming conveyed with ease. Now, the talk is that the person to undo Mr Tisci’s over-design or predilection for putting out too-large collections is the Brit-gone-overseas (to Bottega Veneta until he left last November) Daniel Lee. Apparently, Burberry was recently “talking” to Mr Lee, who, was, according to some accounts, asked to leave BV (but Kering, the brand’s owner, said it was a joint decision). Mr Lee’s departure came in the wake of complains by staff members of unreasonable and disturbing behaviour. How this will affect the outcome of the talks is not clear. Perhaps working with his countrymen is a different condition altogether.
Update (28 September 2022, 15:25): It’s confirmed. Riccardo Tisci is out. Daniel Lee goes to Burberry.
Screen shot: No Content/YouTube