The English label shows in London as Paris Fashion Week starts. Yes, it is disorienting, and the collection is, sadly, muddled
Burberry cancelled their London Fashion Week slot because of the death of Queen Elizabeth II. Their new show opens as PFW begins. Still, guests were keen to go to London—even if it may mean hopping back to Paris almost immediately—because the rumours have been rife for weeks that this could be Riccardo Tisci’s swan song for the brand. Is that why Naomi Campbell walks the runway, her celebrity presence overwhelming the Burberry outfit she is assigned to model? Ms Campbell is known to be an ardent supporter/defender of the designers she adores. This could be her last show for Mr Tisci at Burberry (interestingly, she did not walk Christopher Bailey’s final presentation for the house, although she did attend). The Italian, like his compatriots, does love the company of American celebrities, but there is no sign of one-time devotee of his Givenchy, Kim Kardashian, or equivalent on the runway or off (unless you count Leonardo DiCaprio’s ex, Camila Morrone), although Kanye West, Burberry-clad and shod, did show up for the front row.
If this is truly his final presentation for Burberry, Mr Tisci seems to have returned to where he started. The 81-look collection has something for everyone, as Mr Tisci was fond of suggesting when his early collections seemed to lack focus. This time, the clothes are inspired by the all-sorts who go to a beach, such a Margate, the southeastern coastal town of England (the teasers for the show is filmed here). So beach/swim wear is a theme, or woven into Mr Tisci’s idea of English eccentric. A sparkly triangular bikini top comes with just-as-brilliant arm floats (but are likely bags); a similar but one-piece swimsuit is worn over a pink gown with cut-outs on the crotch, sides, and buttocks; a black bikini set worn under a slinky gown with an ‘X’ for the bodice. These are the obvious references or “codes from the seaside”, as per Burberry. About British beach dressing, Mr Tisci said, “you really see people dressing on the beach, because you never know when it’s going to rain or when there’s going to be sun… Or, you’ll see a wedding, or someone who’s gone there at lunch time to read. It’s all different personalities.”
The show opens eerily quiet in a warehouse with no set, unless you count the curtains, chairs, and platforms on which people stand. At first it seems that the sound of feet and guests coughing, clearing their throats, fidgeting and doing whatever noisy things fashion-show attendees do were to be the soundtrack. Then an operatic voice is heard; it goes on, somewhat forlornly, and then stops. Silence. Three minutes of stillness. And a live orchestra (yes, it is there all along) plays, and the finale begins. One senses that there is an attempt to appear respectful in the wake of the the Queen’s funeral. It’s almost ceremonial. But, is it necessary when the beach is where inspiration is drawn and sexiness is not omitted? Sure, there are all-black clothes, but these are supposedly goth-on-the-beach sombre, not royal-death solemn. If a wedding can be seen on an English beach, then perhaps a funeral too?
In his attempt to reflect the “different personalities” of littoral life and buzz, Mr Tisci shows he has the sand to build the fanciest fashion that the brand’s customers would want. But the result is as muddled as it is futile. He has a tendency to over-design, to pile on, and his latest (and last?) collection is replete with the unnecessarily elaborate, exaggerated, and expendable. One especially unneeded (even useless) detail or styling trick is the long sleeves from the back of dresses or trenchcoats that, in some, appear to be the bottom-halves of upside-down tops tied at the waist or hung loose by the side of the body. One halter-neck denim top comes with the tied sleeves when, above that, there is already a large floppy pussy bow. Even the Burberry check can’t subscribe to judicious tweaks. In one negligée-over-body-stocking look, the check seems to fade into what appears to be a stretched honeycomb pattern.
Last month, we visited the Burberry store at ION Orchard before it closed in the mall permanently. It was deathly quiet inside. There is a visible absence of chartering mainland Chinese tourists. The SAs were so in need of customer contact that two trailed us, doggedly. Nothing in the store called out to us, not even a possible It bag. There was a distinct lack of ambient pull. We sensed that the London cool of the brand that once distinguished its offering has turned quite tepid. The last big-scale promotional event Burberry held was to celebrate the Olympia bag. Nothing in the store then aroused curiosity, let alone stirred desire. If the rumours of Riccardo Tisci’s departure are true (and the chatter that the design reigns will go back to a Brit, such as Daniel Lee), perhaps they are indications that the time is right for a change of creative stewardship. Burberry needs it.
Screen shot (top): burberry/YouTube