Over the past 162 years, leadership of the Burberry brand has changed hands many times. Each time a designer has defined and added to the brand’s core aesthetic, it has mutated Burberry’s DNA, forcing it to evolve along with every change no matter how minor. Now a seismic shift has come along, courtesy of its new Creative Director, Riccardo Tisci.
First, he started by modernizing the logo and monogram, and then splashed the monogram’s intersecting “T” and “B” (which stands for Thomas Burberry, the brand founder) across London billboards and a range of sportswear. He even updated the collectible ‘Thomas Burberry’ bear with a fresh set of gilded and sharpened claws.
With early support for these many changes, Tisci’s inaugural ready-to-wear collection for Burberry only enhanced anticipation of the show. Held in an airy post-office warehouse, another change became evident as guests filed into their seats: there were no celebrities on the front row. Given Tisci’s status as a celebrity designer and his many famous friends, it was a curious start to what would be one of the strongest designer debuts in recent memory.
It started off, as one might expect, with Burberry’s signature trench coat, and here is where Tisci pushed the brand’s heritage into the spotlight. Besides a serious commitment to neutral shades of beige, nude, and tan – a through-line which Tisci has been devoted to since his earliest days as a designer – it was all recognizably Burberry. Tisci didn’t attempt to mutate this section of DNA code so much as he refined it. Sophistication was front-and-center on pieces like a tweed coat done in Burberry’s classic check, which was so marvelous it led us to wonder why no one had thought to do the pattern in tweed before. There were chic trenches with grommeted tab accents, flattering monogrammed dresses, apron-ruffled pencil skirts, and handsome three-piece suits. So far, nothing was radical or innovative, but it was classic and good in a way that holds up to scrutiny. Then, the fun began.
When Christopher Bailey first came on board, one of his most important acts at the helm of Burberry was to buy back thousands of licenses which had led to the brand’s diffusion and association with downmarket apparel. But when high fashion began to embrace street fashion, Bailey saw the chance to resurrect Burberry’s former streetwise reputation. After all, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em. This aesthetic was particularly evident in the last few collections he did for the brand. In the second act of Tisci’s debut show, he pivoted sharply away from the chic stuff he showed at the beginning, and went wild with tough, urban looks, thereby deepening his predecessor’s path to youth appeal.
The change came suddenly with a double-breasted trench tossed casually over a tee bound in fishnet and a leather micro-mini skirt daringly unzipped to the nether regions. Paired with t-strap Mary Janes and schoolgirl socks, the look was unimpeachably punk. From glossy red leather coats and moto jackets to logo tees and corsets, there were lots of references to music’s most rebellious era (which was born in London, by the way). Although the output was recognizably youthful, with its splashy fonts and athleisure separates, it was also really appealing – a perfect fusion of smart design and street influence.
Tisci was clearly the right man for the job.
And then at the end, the tone of the show changed again. Out came a line-up of lithe LBDs, and they were so Givenchy-esque that they served as instant reminder that someone else was in charge now. From the respectful heritage selection to the avant-garde youth parade, Tisci was clearly the right man for the job.