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