March marks the last in Christopher Bailey’s 17-year long tenure heading British heritage house Burberry. Due to step down from the board this month, and from the brand entirely in December, what the 46-year old leaves behind is an undeniable legacy that will remain etched in the luxury behemoth’s history books.
“It has been the great privilege of my working life to be at Burberry, working alongside and learning from such an extraordinary group of people over the last 17 years. Burberry encapsulates so much of what is great about Britain. As an organisation, it is creative, innovative and outward looking. It celebrates diversity and challenges received wisdoms. It is over 160 years old, but it has a young spirit,” said Bailey in a statement issued by the brand on his departure.
In his years of leading the British heritage house — Bailey first joined Burberry in 2001 as its designer director, subsequently rising in ranks to creative director in 2004, chief creative officer in 2009 and eventually named CEO in 2014 — he has catapulted the brand into unprecedented commercial success. In March last year, Burberry reigned supreme in Britian’s luxury brand sales with reported sales of 3.8 billion pounds (approximately SGD 5.1 billion).
An archival image from Burberry's advertising campaign featuring the house's iconic trench coat.
Since taking over, Bailey has paved the way for a revolution at the now 162-year-old brand. At Bailey’s disposal was a pre-exisiting vocabulary spanning more than a century. While the sheer breadth of inventory at hand for Bailey to start from presented a seemingly boundless cache of inspirations, it also posed one of the greatest challenges in reinventing the house: taking notes from the past and moving it forward with time. Baliey proved a visionary in every sense of the word and his understanding of the quaint British lifestyle played out to his advantage.
The lifestyle he sought to sell at Burberry was
reflective of the life he had led, one that was deeply
entrenched in British sensibilities. During his
tenure, he relaunched house codes that have since
become synonymous with the brand. Under his reworking, the trench coat fast cemented its status as a cult fashion item, plaid was rehashed from the pages of history and the Burberry scarf boasted the status of a house icon. Bailey found triumph not only in the commercial success of his runway collections but also in his endearing way of weaning into the hearts of celebrity A-listers.
When the news of his departure broke, his fellow Brit, Adele, took to Instagram to pay her tribute to Bailey. “He is so enthusiastic about all British talent and he always collaborated with my insecurities to create outfits for me that have become a signature for me and made me feel great!” the singer wrote.
The house's iconic plaid plays decorum to contemporary streetwear influenced tote bags, caps, and scarfs, as seen in the February 2018 collection.
Bailey’s works were underscored by a deeper message: He not only wanted to make clothes, he wanted to make them for everyone. He approached fashion as a right to all, rather than an entitlement to few.
Grounded in the idea of democratisation, much of Bailey’s efforts were centered in fostering greater inclusion. In 2010, Burberry made history as the first major luxury label to stream its Fall showcase online live in 3D. The move, in allowing the masses virtual access to the fashion week showings, permeated the elusive exclusivity previously reserved only for industry insiders. In keeping its pulse on the developments in technology, Burberry has been one amongst the most successful to leverage on social media.
In 2017, Burberry emerged the as the most popular British brand on Instagram for the second year in a row according to data released by Iconosquare, a social media analytics firm.
Bailey’s foresight also prompted Bailey to sidestep the seasonal conventions of fashion week in 2016, making the decision to instead show two seasonless men’s and women’s wear collections on its runways. The focus instead was steered towards its see-now-buy-now model that allows consumers to purchase immediately after shows.
“The changes we are making will allow us to build a closer connection between the experience that we create with our runway shows and the moment when people can physically explore the collections for themselves,” offered Bailey in a statement released at the time of the announcement.
Additionally, at a time when people were expanding and adding diffusion lines to their existing repertoire, Bailey made the bold move to collapse all subsidary lines into one main line.
His landmark decision heralded somewhat of a revolt within the industry as other pioneering designers like Tom Ford followed suit in reconsidering their schedules on the fashion week calendar and the relevance of having multiple ranges. Bailey’s work at Burberry has been in many ways looked upon as a case study by the fashion realm at large. In the seventeen years that Bailey has held the top spot at Burberry, he has been not only a vanguard of quintessential British heritage but also a marker of newness in the industry.
As his departure marks the end of an era, the top spot at the British house stands vacant. “I played no part in it and am sad to see him go,” said Burberry’s chief executive Marco Gobbetti of Bailey’s departure. “The process has started but it will take some time to find the right creative leader for Burberry for the next decade. Don’t expect any announcements very, very soon.” His statement came nine days after news of Bailey’s departure broke.
Subscribe to our newsletter