Is Bailey Blasé About Burberry?

Christopher Bailey showed his final collection in London two days ago. It was not the swan song of swan songs

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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?

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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?

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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?

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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

Plastic Makeover

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The forecast for spring/summer 2018 at Burberry appears to be inclement weather. We don’t remember seeing so many pieces of rain wear in a Burberry show before. Or is this just a statement about the notorious English showers? Or, the hurricane season in the Caribbeans? It sure isn’t quite the reflection of the climate of Asia. In fact, the clothes looked a bit un-summer like, with so many outers—even a coat that looks like shearling —and rather chunky knits. Or, has Christopher Bailey chosen to remain largely in calm, bearable spring? But this isn’t a spring showing; this is The September Show!

Anything that can be made out of water-repellent “soft-touch” plastic, they were out there: raincoats, dusters, ponchos, anoraks, hoodies, and even skirts! It is not entirely opaque plastic, which means there’s quite a bit of flesh to flash and the only-fashion-types-get-it interplay of translucency (softly coloured!) and textures. It’s as if to deliberately blur the more interesting bits underneath—lovely knitwear, for example. Or, staying with the weather, is that saying something about London’s fog?

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The shower curtain material must have disappointed animal rights activists, reported to have made a spectacle of themselves, shouting outside the show venue—Old Sessions House, a former London court—and causing delay to the start of the presentation. Will it be eco-warriors next to be up in arms in demanding that the plastic be bio-degradable?! Mr Bailey, a win is hard.

But for many fans, the media included, this is a winning collection, if not for its protection against precipitation, at least the revival of the Burberry heritage check, which, at one time, was considered unfashionable when it was associated with British bengs known as ‘chavs’. But it’s all very British—this part of the brand’s history and Mr Bailey isn’t afraid to confront it head on. He has, of course, made it all a lot more current, even when wearing baseball caps of the said check or the knitted sweater-vest (worn alone) that hinted at past chav style, by not being terribly serious about how things are paired and worn.

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It is, therefore, likely that the collection is aimed primarily at the young, as chavs tend to be. The proportions of the clothes—including details such as large collars and lapels— parallel sizes popular in the ’70s and ’80s. This may be in keeping with the prevalent shape of things, but it’s not immediately discernible that the anti-fashion, working-class silhouette and mix of things (cocktail waitress on the way home after work?) will win the love of those of a certain age.

Targetting the young is also augmented by the clear nod to streetwear, a move few designers can afford to avoid these days—“a little street, sophisticated” the designer told Vogue Hommes. Although there’s something to be said of a 46-year-old Christopher Bailey designing for kids less than half his age (“it’s their world”, he conceded to Edward Ennful in a video interview for British Vogue), the sighting of Mino and Hoony of the Korean boy band Winner in the front row attests not only to Burberry’s intended audience/shopper, it bolsters the brand’s youth-oriented image and keeps up their strive for relevance in an age of the young and restless.

Photos: (top) Burberry and WWD

London Continues To Charm

Brexit looms, but the Brits are showing that creativity has not left the fold

christopher-kane-aw-2017Christopher Kane

The just-concluded London Fashion Week isn’t like New York Fashion Week: boring. The city, like New York, is where many designers—not necessarily from London—feel the creative pull. Yet, unlike the Big Apple, London designers aren’t attached to a certain English aesthetic the way US designers are stuck to American sportswear, including those designers in the east coast—if the reported rise of Los Angeles is to be believed. The English are more freewheeling that way, allowing the city’s plurality of culture to inform their design directions. They are not wedded to predictability.

Indeed, London designers are not hung up about adhering to a certain English look. Although Burberry’s Christopher Bailey paid homage to English sculptor Henry Moore, the collection is far from depicting a certain English ideal. Many London designers do not appear shackled by the need to keep the flame of Englishness alive. Indeed what is English today isn’t quite the same as what it was in the Sixties, when London was called “swinging” and positioned as the centre of the “youth quake” of that era. Sure, there’s always the influence of the past—royalty, Victoriana, punk, the New Wave, the Scottish Highlands, the old garbs of fishing folks of the bleak coasts—but English designers tend to look ahead, drawing from urban miscellany to forge a more progressive whole.

j-w-anderson-aw-2017J. W. Anderson

You don’t get British designers revisiting to death Mary Quant or Biba, but you do see American designers returning to Studio 54 time and time again, as if the ’70s can never be left behind, as if the Battle of Versailles was not proof enough that American designers are able to march to a new beat. That the past may influence the present is understandable. Some of Britain’s great designers, such as the late Alexander McQueen, drew heavily from what went way before. The past is, however, a platform to springboard to the future, or, at least, delineate the present.

That was what we sensed at Christopher Kane this season. There’s something vaguely and deliciously old-fashioned about the collection. Mr Kane is not, of course, a trad lad, but his approach to designing seems born of dressmaking of the past. Still, there is none of the British frumpiness, or maybe there is, just cleverly subverted with spiffy cuts and shiny fabrics. We like his flattering, feminine silhouettes too, within which he makes his magic. That’s where his unpredictability lies. Contained in near-conventional forms, Mr Kane incorporates fold, tucks, and slits within. The look isn’t wayward, yet there’s something unusual about it. Appealing, too.

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Similarly, J. W. Anderson, created some rather compelling clothes. While media eyes are mainly on his work for the Spanish house Loewe, fans are keeping a close watch on the developments at his eponymous label. Mr Anderson is not terribly concerned with Britishness, but he is adept at reaching into the mixed bag that is modern-day England and pulling out quite a remarkable jumble. It’s not easy to pin-point the typical J. W. Anderson silhouette, but that’s precisely why his work is so beguiling. His autumn/winter 2017 collection shows draping, asymmetry, and gently puffed-up shapes, and in-between, something plucked from Qing China.

One of the London collections that made us re-focus on the line is Erdem. This is supremely feminine, not something we normally would pay close attention to, but Erdem Moralioglu has created a smashing output based on so many desirable dresses that are, to us, post-Duchess of Cambridge. There is a certain artistic aspect to the way he mixes fabrics and prints, all the while keeping the silhouettes rather controlled—not-too-princess-friendly. We were thinking that if ever (and, really, just if) Pierpaolo Piccioli should ponder leaving Valentino, Erdem Moralioglu should be considered for the job.

joseph-aw-2017Joseph

Throughout much of London Fashion Week, under-appreciated English labels are doing more interesting work than over-exposed American names across the Atlantic. One that deserves a bigger audience is Joseph. Although once a fairly conventional brand, Joseph has, under the stewardship of Louise Trotter, steadily evolved into a line that straddles confidently between sophistication and edginess. Ms Trotter does not shy from unconventional shapes, nor quirky details that give her designs character. We appreciate her pairing of prints, placement of pockets, and the push-pull of masculinity and femininity. It’s the creative tension that gently tips her work outside basic. It gives you reason to make space in the wardrobe.

British designers are re-defining femininity without having to underscore it. In fact, it is heartening to see them not succumb to the commercial appeal of the fit-and-flair dress shape that many of today’s women cannot seem to break away from. Constant is their exploration of the spatial relationship between fabric and the body, so that the basis of the silhouettes is not the hourglass shape, or a figure that adhere to the vulgar sexiness consistent with those frequently witnessed on social media. These are not clothes to show off Victoria’s Secret underclothes. For that reason, we’re keeping our eyes on London.

Photos: indigital.tv

Burberry’s Best Yet

Has stepping down as CEO been good for the creative output of Christopher Bailey?

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Finales of fashion show rarely come with surprises, or even more to see. Burberry’s presentation this morning (last night, London time) was one that truly ended with extras, as if designer Christopher Bailey wasn’t quite done with what he wanted to express. The models (re)emerged in the order they first came in, but this time with an extra article of clothing.

They were not given something essential to wear. No, these were not pieces you’d rush out to buy, but they caused quite a rush of excitement. At first, you wondered if these were another set of clothes, then you realised that the models were fitted in basically an extra outer. But there was nothing basic about them, not in Burberry’s sense anyway, which often meant the trench coat or the house checks. These were flourishes—ornamental pieces worn to stimulate the senses, or to end a show with a bang.

Mr Bailey has turned a brief 4-min-or-so finale into a showcase of intense creativity that could have passed off as a couture fling, or, conversely, graduate-show excess. These were elaborate pieces that, we suspect, will not be produced.They covered mostly the shoulders: flounced, layered, and tiered fichu; the chunkiest cable and fringed scarf; oversized, lace falling band; metallic feathered capelet, glittering aventail; pearl-strung passementerie, closed and opens ruffs; oversized feathered collar, and so many pieces that would have had Viktor and Rolf nod with gleeful approval.

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That this was a rather arty collection surprised not, for according to Burberry, the collection was “an exploration of sculpture and silhouette, material and process… inspired by the life and creations of Henry Moore’, the English artist and sculptor whose work ‘Large Reclining Figure’ currently sits outside the OCBC Building on Chulia Street. Mr Moore, who was from the same county as Mr Bailey: Yorkshire, is known for his exaggerated, alien-like shapes—usually curvy and undulating, sometimes corpulent. We did not see much of the Moore silhouette in the Burberry set—now known by the season non-specific ‘February collection’—but being inspired does not mean imitative.

What we did see is a startling show of asymmetry, quite in the spirit of Henry Moore. Asymmetric bodices and skirts are not new at Burberry, but those of such extreme skew and graphical placement are refreshing. Even the knits, British cable knits, were given a treatment that takes diagonal positions across the body. Some have mismatched sleeves. Much of the asymmetry was not just from left to right; it was from front to back, too. The lopsidedness was rather extreme in some cases: a one-sleeve, one-lapel jacket, for example, was pair with a vaguely Victorian blouse with profusion of ruffles on the side the jacket did not cover. Flat juxtaposed to the wildly textured is the new-born sister of Mr Bailey’s recurrent opaque to the sheer.

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As it is evidenced elsewhere, oversized seems to be the order of the day at Burberry too. This is perhaps to keep to Henry Moore’s exaggerated shapes. Consistent with the seemingly one-size-too-large proportion, most of the sleeves were extra long, which, by now could be just on the wrong side of novel. Still, the sum effect is one that is consistent with the loosen-up attitude towards dressing. Unless you work in a bank or similarly corporate institutions, you’re probably rather enticed by Burberry giving the slouchy and the bulky an affirmative tick.

This is not saying that the English Rose—youthful and charming lass with a hint of blue blood—is no longer the trim muse at Burberry. It is possible that, by turning away from the Rose garden, Mr Bailey is suggesting that his customers are grown up and ready to adopt a more adventurous and sophisticated wardrobe. Let’s not over-rely on the house codes—enough checks for the present, he seemed to mean; let’s not be so straightforward; let’s no trod on the path Top Shop will follow.

burbery-pic-5As per the see-now, buy-now business model, the latest collection is immediately available at the Burberry website to order

This aesthetic boldness came at a time that follows Mr Bailey vacating the seat of the CEO (last year), where he sat (while also steering the design studio) since May 2014. It injected a sense of anticipation and exhilaration not experienced since his debut at Burberry in 2001. For quite a while, and this could be attributed to the toil of caring for the company’s bottom line, Mr Bailey had not imbued his designs with much of the London cool that he so carefully and successfully cultivated when he took over. This was later augmented by the indie bands and singers that the brand has aligned itself with and also invited to soundtrack the presentations. Singer-musicians such as the latest show’s Anna Calvi and past performers such as Alison Moyet and Paloma Faith, as well as Burberry Acoustic (the webpage that showcases under-the-radar bands) have added to the brand’s non-mainstream creative cred.

Now, back to strictly designing, Mr Bailey has illustrated that he can more than tweak British classics. This collection showed a knack for adding and distorting without seemingly going overboard. Flash more than dash may be the prevailing mood in fashion, but Christopher Bailey isn’t surrendering to mindless ostentation (save the finale pieces). He just gets the balance right, punching things up without dragging them down. There is, as Depeche Mode sang, “more besides joyrides.”

Photos: (finale and website) Burberry.com, (catwalk, individual) indigital.tv

Ready-To-Wear Is Now Ready-To-Buy

Are you rushing out to shop?

gigi-x-tommy-hilfiger-windowGigi Hadid X Tommy Hilfiger video screen and window display at the Raffles City store

Like many of you, we saw the live stream of the Burberry show on its website yesterday. This time the staging was called The September Show rather than Spring/Summer 2017 as it would otherwise have been known, and it was a platform for both men’s and women’s wear, devised to encourage and meet the urge to spend. The video was 24.35-minutes long although the length of the actual catwalk presentation was 19 minutes. So fast moving was the video that it was hard to see every style in detail or remember what pieces beckoned. We remember that the first impression that struck us was that this could have been a Gucci show.

The clothes were, perhaps, more compelling now that it is possible to buy them after we saw them—a pro-consumer move that was proposed by Christopher Bailey (who relinquished his CEO position to concentrate on creative direction) in February this year. Despite the initial enthusiasm behind the idea, nobody could say for sure how this approach—so uncharacteristic of the catwalk-to-consumer path and time frame of the past—will work out for both retailers and shoppers.

For the purpose of experiencing what the brand thinks will be a thrill of getting something as soon as it appears on the runway, we identified a Burberry cavalry jacket as a potential buy and decided to see if it shall appear in the store soon after to seduce us into wielding a credit card.

burberry-sep-2016A rack of Burberry clothes from The September Show sat discreetly away from the main selling floor of the MBS store

First stop this afternoon was the Burberry store in Ion Orchard. When we walked in, there were surprisingly more customers than service staff. Despite the filled racks, we could not identify anything from The September Show. When a salesperson was available, we asked her about what we came to see and she was quick to say that the collection was already in the store, but the viewing is by appointment only. She offered to take our name to give us a time slot. We declined and she then said that we could come tomorrow to join a “special event” organized for Pin and Prestige readers. Or, “if there’s a style that you really want, we can help you order online.”

When even that failed to entice us, she patiently went on to say that the collection will then be moved to the Burberry store at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands (MBS), and make a final appearance back at Ion Orchard before it is dispatched, after 2 Oct, to neighbouring cities. This seems to be a trunk show, we thought. She added, “Singapore is very privileged to be the first country in Southeast Asia to see the collection.” According to her, the clothes will then be sent to Bangkok and Seoul. Is it a full collection? Will we see it again? To both questions, she wasn’t sure.

We tried our luck at MBS. The staff here was more sympathetic and happily showed us to a quiet recess of the store—a private lounge—where a low rack of clothes sat as if in a corner of a warehouse. We immediately identified a pink sweater, but the cavalry jacket we wanted wasn’t there; the cape-coat cousin was. Not willing to let down a pair of keen walk-ins, she suggested that we return on the 23rd for “a special event at the ice skating rink. There will be a screening of the show, and you can buy the clothes afterwards.”

tom-ford-at-mbsAt Tom Ford, one single rack, barely filled, of the collection shown at New York Fashion Week

Since we were in MBS, we decided to pop over to Tom Ford, who, too, is adopting the “see now, buy now” model. The staff here was utterly delighted that we had asked for the “New York Fashion Week collection” (we did not know what to call it). She showed us the rack at the rear of the store. There were exactly ten pieces of just five styles. Sensing our disappointment with the smallness of what was in stock, she said, “there will be more stuff coming in on the 30th, but I am not sure if they’re from the runway show.”

We asked if the men’s collection arrived too. She led us to the adjacent section and pointed to a velvet, mirco-dotted, two-button blazer worn on a mannequin. “For men, we only have this one.” It was a near whisper, with regret breathing clear. When did the clothes arrive? “The New York show was on the 8th,” she pointed out helpfully, “we put out the clothes on the 9th. Of course, the clothes arrived in Singapore before that, but Mr Tom Ford won’t allow us to display earlier.”

Mr Tom Ford’s grip was clearly felt this far. He told Derek Blasberg in CNN Style early this month that he would be doing “something new: you will be able to buy the clothes as they come down the runway.” That’s, of course, not the case for us here since there is a 24-hour time difference between Madison Avenue and MBS, but next-day availability is probably speedy enough for those who buy into Mr Ford’s “grown up” elegance dripping with ’70s glamour. Interestingly, Thom Browne also referenced the ’70s, but that’s like a different planet.

tom-ford-mens-jacketFor men, the Tom Ford store at MBS had only one jacket

Still on planet MBS, by then heady with the smell of over-consumption, we decided to traipse over to Ralph Lauren. Mr Lauren had announced during his show, via a note left on the invitees’ seats, that he was “offering every look, every accessory, every handmade detail immediately in my flagship stores around the world and online.” The Singapore flagship’s window on B1 was homage to the quiet colour beige. Inside, it was as hushed: not a word was heard, not a sound. We approached two sales staff and asked, as we did at Tom Ford, for the “New York Fashion Week collection”. Both women looked at us quizzically. The collection that was shown last week outside the RL Madison Avenue store? One of them said, unsmiling, that “there won’t be any new collection as our store will be closing.”

We had not expected our on-the-ground research to be met with such dismal news. Business must have been so bleak that even Ralph Lauren could not wait for their own potentially game-changing and profit-turning “see now, buy now” approach test-run in its own store. Has simultaneous showing and selling met a premature death in Singapore before the idea can be conclusively said to be a success or letdown?

The purpose of “show now, buy now” is to tap the excitement from seeing a presentation, whether on site or online. Sell while it’s trending could be today’s version of the now infrequently used strike while the iron is hot. Fashion and trends are no longer embargoed till clothes reach stores or circumscribed by the catwalk on which they appear, once to a small coterie of people who care about such things. Let loose from the moment the first model appears on the runway, fashion now is a multi-channel, multi-platform, multi-celeb phenomenon that seems to arouse desires than dampen wants.

gigi-x-tommy-hilfiger-displayGigi Hadid X Tommy Hilfiger store display at Raffles City

The “everywhereness”—to borrow from author Laurence Scott’s description of the digital world—of fashion prior to retail has not enrich sellers and shoppers. A rethink of the flow from concept to consumer is, for many brand owners and their CFOs, as vital as cost control. As Tom Ford put it to CNN, “When you can buy something online and have it delivered the same day to your house in lots of key cities like you can now, it seems odd that you would look at clothes online and they would be everywhere, but you can’t have them for five months.”

Wait was definitely not something fans and followers of the model Gigi Hadid had to do.  Her collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger was available during the New York Fashion Week presentation via touch screens set up on site, a one-time fun fair at Manhattan’s South Street Seaport. On our island, the clothes were available the day after the show. We wanted to see for ourselves how talented Ms Hadid is, so we went to the Tommy Hilfiger store in Raffles City (the collection is also available at Ion Orchard and Vivo City—an impressive three points of sale).

“See now, buy now” was a serious and highly visible proposition here. The store was fronted by an island display full of the results of the collaboration (more than anything we saw at the other brands), the window was dressed with two cardboard cut-outs of the model fully garbed in the nautical-themed clothes bearing her name, and, on their left, a video screen was alive with flashing stills of Ms Hadid in poses that won’t give K-pop princesses a run for their money.

A sales staff did not hesitate to point out to us that two items were already sold out: a cap and a thigh-length, double-breasted, wool-blend cape-coat. “What does the coat look like,” we asked, and she whipped out an iPad to show us a product photo. “How many pieces were sold,” we ventured further, genuinely curious. With delight and will to convince, she said, “One.”

Photos: Zhao Xiangji