Sleeveless At Burberry

It’s a season to hack parts of clothes off. Why not sleeves?

If legs of trousers and bottom halves of bodices are superfluous for spring/summer 2022, sleeves are too. You can be quite sure of that when Burberry shows much of their collection sans sleeves. Of the 45 looks (excluding those shown with just pants), 38 feature sleeveless tops or outers. We are not referring to tank tops—those are there or overalls—they are there too; we are pointing to those traditionally made to cover arms, but now not: trench coats, top coats, car coats, bombers, and the list goes on. Riccardo Tisci have decided to do away with the extra fabrics needed to shape the tubular protuberances, retaining not even half of it nor a little capped sleeve. The opening look perhaps sums it up: a traditional Burberry trench coat worn with arms exposes. As the trench coat has raglan sleeves, removing them along the seams means the result is an upper that’s rather halter. To butch it up, the trench is worn with a white sleeveless muscle tee underneath, which makes the getup look like a butcher’s. Is Burberry proposing a new work wear, while others are promoting play wear?

Burbbery’s video presentation was shot in London even when they show during the current Paris Fashion Week. This time, the location is a desert-looking part of a once-derelict Millennium Mills in Royal Victoria Docks, East of the capital. This could be a barren set for a Mad Max movie, and the tough looking lads could be members of a fashion-forward biker gang, navigating post-apocalyptic times. To augment the rawness, the thumping soundtrack (UK duo Shpongle’s oddly fitting Strange Planet) is provided to seem like the viewer is watching the proceedings with headphones that have no noise cancellation. The music drifts in and out, all the while you can hear the shuffling of feet against the sandy ground (regrettably, you can’t really see the footwear). The ambient sounds are so deliberate that you can even hear dogs barking in the distance. Again, unlike others, this is not some conduit to joy. This is like moving from lockdown to desolation.

Despite the arid setting, this could possibly be Riccardo Tisci’s most spirited (fertile is somehow not quite the right word here) men’s collection for Burbbery yet. Netizens are already calling this a return to form—as seen during his time at Givenchy. The face jewellery is certainly evocative (those bridge clips and lip rings are going to find their way to Zara!) and those graphics on shirts and tees. But perhaps most missed is Mr Tisci’s hard-edge treatment of traditional menswear pieces, imbued with a distinctive street wear spirit. This season, there is a sizeable selection of outerwear and they manifest Mr Tisci’s flair for deconstructing/reconstructing military wear (the trench coat was first created for British troops fighting in World War I) and work wear into modern clothes with an edgy undertone. We are conflicted if sleeveless anything makes a good central idea. Not since the sleeveless plaid shirts and denim truckers of the grunge era in the mid-’80s have we seen this much biceps. But this isn’t a nostalgic step back into the past, not a nod to Raf Simons’s sleeveless blazers of his early years (okay, perhaps a tad). This is Mr Tisci exhaling and articulating. Burberry is humming again.

In the past three years of his tenure, the most recognisable British brand had been in a strange place: somewhere between intriguing but not quite embraceable. Oftentimes, when we visit their stores here, they are ghostly quiet. We do not know if its the merchandise or the buying. The menswear frequently appear avuncular desperately trying to be cool (graffiti on checks?!) With spring/summer 2022 collection, we would be happy to have a close-up of the hunky and structured shapes: bodice-and-collar-only trench coats; boatneck outers that could be the trench coat’s hipper cousin; the raglan tank tops with irregular cut-outs (which reminds us of a Louis Vuitton X Comme des Garçons tote from 2014); the breastplates; and those tops printed with a monotone, flat image of them; and the pants with the horizontal straps (what could they secure?). In short, there would be a lot more to see.

Screen grab (top) and photos: Burberry

Dress Watch: The Hydra Shirt

How many collars, or necks, does a chemise need?

Combining more than one outfit (or parts of) in a single garment is, of course, nothing new these days. We’ve seen it forever at Comme des Garçons and more recently at Y-Project and Balenciaga. Joining (pun, for sure) the rest is Burberry, the British house now still being remade by the Italian designer Ricccardo Tisci. This isn’t a simple one plus one, or one on one. Mr Tisci has made a simple shirt dress, conjoined with two halves-and-full-collars. This is the work of a Victor Frankenstein with an eye for symmetry.

The Burberry chemise-dress is interesting at first encounter. Pull back and it might be less fetching. The stand out parts are the two extra collars that, when worn, frame both ends of the shoulder, which, as a styling effect, is known as the “cold shoulder”. Think: summer of 2016. But the dress has less the sex appeal of those from four years ago. In fact, with the sleeve dangling by the side, it gives the dress a sack-like silhouette that may not be flattering for those not on the side of svelte.

What may, perhaps, be more appealing is to treat the two side collars as armholes. Yes, put your arms through them. It’s a twofer! Bring the sleeves to the middle, knot at the waist. In this manner, the dress would be unusual enough to intrigue even the keenest fashion observer. Is an extra shirt tied over the bodice?

What, to us, is a let down is the fabric used: The winter standard cotton flannel. And in WFH-friendly buffalo check and plaid! Fashion hack: do the same look by picking three flannel shirts from Uniqlo, and getting an able tailor to piece them together. Because that would cost you a total of S$89.70 (minus sewing charge) instead of the eye-watering S$3,950 you’d otherwise have to fork out.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Burberry Contrast Check Cotton Reconstructed Shirt Dress, SGD3,950, and a similar version for men, SGD1,880, are available at Burberry stores and online. Photo: Zhao Xiangji

For You And You And You… And You

Is catering to as many as possible helping Burberry’s image?

 

Burberry SS 2020 P1

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.

Burberry SS 2020 G1Burberry SS 2020 G2

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.

Burberry SS 2020 G3

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.

Photos: Burberry

Oh, Another One!

The mainland Chinese are annoyed; they are complaining that the new Burberry Chinese New Year ads are mirthless and rather ominous. They obviously have not seen the British brand’s creepy Christmas campaign

 

burberry cny 2019 p1Why so glum? Even 小燕子 (xiao yanzi, little swallow) Vicky Zhao (right) can’t lift the Burberry CNY 2019 ads from gloominess. Photo: Burberry/Weibo

Burberry ended last year with a weird ad; they started this year with another just as weird. Or, eerie, as some Netizens felt.

In China, Burberry’s yet-to-be-fully-launched Chinese New Year campaign is eliciting remarkable dismay and disapproval. The advertising stills that were first posted in Weibo last Thursday surprised many when it was revealed by Burberry to be for CNY. As fashion ads go, they’re frankly unremarkable, but as those targeted at a very specific occasion, one considered to be the most important on the lunar calendar, they stood out for their stupendous gloominess.

The Burberry ads suggest a family coming together for a portrait, or possibly some wefies. They appear to be unwilling participants, photographed against their better judgment, surrounded by people they are unhappy to be near: a tableau of the inauspicious. Two Chinese stars are enlisted to give the pictures the glamour factor that luxury brands typically require of their visual presentations, but even Vicky Zhao (赵微) and Zhou Dongyu (周冬雨) are not able to bring a mood of 喜气洋洋 (xi qi yang yang or full of joy) to the set with a backdrop that, for most Chinese families, should have been tossed out with the spring cleaning.

burberry cny 2019 p2Unhappy family? Or is this how CNY has become these days? Photo: Burberry/Weiboburberry ad @ ion orchardThe same ad, as seen suspended from the ceiling and perpendicular to the Burberry store at ION Orchard. Photo: Zhao Xiangji 

Or, is Burberry smarter than what they have led us to believe? Could this be Burberry saying something about how the young luxury consumers of today are reacting to Chinese New Year? Are we looking at a typical of Chinese family celebrating CNY now?

In the close-crop photo of Vicky Zhao and Chou Dongyu, the women look like distant cousins confronting other relatives that have come with danger (or dagger?!) rather than good tidings (aka ang pows), with the older holding the hands of the younger protectively before they run for the safety of the panic room (aka the toilet). Ms Chou wears an expression that, when brought to any CNY visit, would be considered ku (苦 or bitter)—best left at the door.

Yet, increasingly, this is what many families, especially the older folks, see during Chinese New Year, when they open their front door. So unhappy and unwilling are the young to go CNY visiting these days that many of these reluctant folks have opted to go abroad during this season, a trend that encourages those who are staying put to not answer knocks on the door or the ringing of the phone so as to pretend they are away.

burberry cny 2019 p3Evil intent? The creepy photo that prompted one Weibo user to suggest that there was a plot here to kill the grandmother for her riches! Photo: Burberry/Weibo

Could this then be Burberry reflecting the sign of the times (that’s why the ad campaign is named “摩登新禧” or Modern New Year)? Or the other sign—that western luxury brands will continue to market to Asia with little or no understanding of the market?

We resist comparing this to the Dolce and Gabbana fiasco of two months ago. To be fair, both incidences are very different, but 新浪财经 (Sina Finanical News) may be on to something when they headlined this poser: “Dolce & Gabbana 之后 Burberry 或也将‘败’在广告”. Or, “after Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry may be defeated by advertising”. It sounds like the Chinese media (and Sina isn’t alone) is saying that Chinese consumers, perhaps more than their Western counterparts, pay attention to adverts, and that brands should be mindful of what they communicate to the Chinese.

Or, have the mainland Chinese for too long projected themselves to be a rather uncultured lot when overseas that there are brands who think that, back in the motherland, culture is inconsequential to the world’s most populous nation? Or have the Chinese become, as some say, unduly sensitive when they themselves have been culturally unaware when on foreign soil? Insensitivity begets insensitivity?

burberry cny 2019 p4Something’s going on? The evil and the snubbed! Photos: Burberry/Weibo

It is rather puzzling that following the Dolce & Gabbana uproar, brands are still not taking into consideration the textual and visual implications of the messages they deliver in markets not their own. We wonder if it can be narrowed to one thing: an Italian failing. Like Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, Burberry’s Riccardo Tisci is Italian, so is the company’s CEO Marco Gobetti. To be sure, we are not playing the nationality card here, but it did have us wondering if this is a possibility: that there is scant understanding of China and much of Asia among present-day Italians.

This is glaringly ironic considering that compatriot Marco Polo, the 13th century merchant, is known to be a serious Sinophile and had written much about zhongguo. But he isn’t the only one who held the Chinese in high regard. Later, in the 18th century, the Jesuit priest Giuseppe Castiglione served as court painter to three, not one (!), Qing emperors: Kangxi, Yongzheng, and Qianlong. In fact, Italy’s bilateral relations is believed to date back to the times of ancient Rome.

For some, to make sense of all this, we have to take into consideration that we live in a confused—and confusing—world. These are times when we can do and say anything we want just as we can wear whatever we desire, even if it’s an affront to the decency or culture of the person in front of us. Fashion has become less about design than the need for the wearer to be intrusively, even inappropriately, expressive. Blare without care.

burberry christjmas 2018 p1Burberry’s earlier gloom. A dining hall and Kirsten Scott Thomas divorced from joy in Burberry’s Christmas 2018 video commercial. Photos: Burberry/Weibo

Since Riccardo Tisci’s appointment at Burberry, there is a certain gloom when it comes to the brand’s big, holiday advertising. Just last month, their Christmas ad, specifically the “fashion film” format, showed stars of the movie, music, and modelling worlds in their Burberry festive finery. But no one seemed happy, not even the dog under the table, on which a most un-festive meal was laid, in a hall with as much Yuletide cheer as a funeral parlour.

Even with big names, such as actors Kirsten Scott Thomas (looking spectacularly despondent) and Matt Smith (looking disconcertingly evil), and hip-hop artiste MIA (looking positively bored), the advert has such a lack of merriment that this could easily be a trailer for some slasher-in-a-sanctuary movie. Or, has Westerners’ attitude towards Christmas turned to the unrecognisable just as Chinese people now look at Chinese New Year so rather differently?

None of the cast members of the Burberry Christmas ad looked more sinister than Naomi Campbell, who sat on the ground like a broken doll, with her head on her mother Valerie Morris-Campbell’s lap, both looking blankly at a TV screen in front on them, in a chillingly blank room. With an eldritch half-smile on both faces, the Campbells appear no different from the Hewitts—Leatherface’s crazy family in 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. That, we think, is pretty creepy.

Burberry’s New Jumble

Riccardo Tisci told The Guardian that he wanted his version of Burberry to “celebrate eclecticism”. Does that mean anything goes?

 

Burberry SS 2019 P1.jpg

The show was basically split into two parts, or maybe three, for both the men’s and the women’s collections, suggesting that designer Riccardo Tisci wishes to cater to more than one group of customers: those moneyed individuals who see Burberry as a traditional brand and still desire to buy traditional styles, those indefatigable influencers who hope to acquire ‘statement’ pieces, and those who have red carpets to walk on. That means catering to a broad base, which is already there, as evidenced by the reportedly close to USD3 billion annual sales, as well as creating a Burberry that is less tied to its English roots. Or, at least the Englishness that Christopher Bailey had once so seductively evinced.

In fact, to us, the new Burberry emanates a rather Italian aesthetic, Roman even—sunray skirts (or trench coat if inclement weather) for prancing at the Piazza Navona and vaguely street style for the rest, hanging out in Piazza Trilussa. To be sure, we weren’t hoping at that late hour of the live stream for anything that would bring back Mr Bailey’s Bloomsbury brio (or sorcery since many women were under its spell for quite a while) and we’re glad there was no return, but there was something lacking in its glorification of a British house.

Burberry SS 2019 G1

Sure, the Burberry check was there (as well as the stripes); the unmissable trenchcoats too, but these seemed like products taken from the shop floor to supplement otherwise incomplete merchandising rather than design-led garments destined for a direction-setting runway. Otherwise it would be hard to explain the pussy-bow blouses, even in the house tartan; pencil and bubble shirts; a baby-doll dress that looked oddly drab; blazer-skirt combos that wouldn’t be out of place in the confines of Marks & Spencer. Perhaps, Riccardo Tisci was doing Brit style after all.

Some people are thrilled that Mr Tisci is “bringing back elegance”. It’s a strange elegance, if you can call it that. Proper, too, especially in the first half. It was, as if Mr Tisci was deliberately going against the grain of the surge of street style, like so many designers are now doing, rejecting, as a matter of course, the ‘ugly’ too. That this should be the track he chose to take is not surprising, but that he should put out such kosher designs that’s reminiscent of one-time office wear is. Perhaps Mr Tisci is tired of dressing the likes of the Kardashian/Jenner clan, conspicuously missing in the front row of the show?

Burberry SS 2019 G2

Burberry SS 2019 G3

Just as we thought the now-uncommon prim will dominate, Mr Tisci ditched the Town and Country look for something more in keeping with what he was known for at Givenchy: clothes, although not “darkly romantic”—the favourite description among the media and KOLs, that his followers would definitely wear. These had a whiff of the sporty, the military, and the punk, all calculated to appeal to a generation that grew up through Mr Tisci’s Givenchy years (2005—2017). So, if you want accent sleeves, you got accent sleeves; even cold shoulder, yes, those cold shoulders you see around you that won’t go away. There was even a Virgil Abloh moment, three letters on a T-shirt that read COW, in case you did not know that the top was paired with a skirt of bovine print.

It may be a little severe to say that the most anticipated show of London Fashion Week turned out to be disappointing, but a let down it was even if the failure to fulfill our expectations was partly of our own making. We had hoped that Riccardo Tisci would go to London to place Burberry in a leadership role, the way Christopher Bailey had during the brand’s heydays. It would not, at present, be that.

Photos: Burberry