When is the trench coat not having a moment? That’s a good question. The answer is ‘never’, of course. It’s a classic that’s always relevant yet this season, if you pardon the fashion hyperbole, it’s Having A Moment. No, I’m not talking about the (albeit lush) pulled-to-the-side trenches of Prada’s be-feathered show, but the original Burberrys that dominated the show on Monday night. The highlight of my London Fashion Week, the trench was out in full force; cropped, super-sized, deconstructed and overstated. It seemed to be a metaphor for Burberry itself – omnipresent, of its time, and yet completely forward thinking.
It’s been a big week for Burberry. The company has had a few public ups and downs during the last twelve months and this felt like a new beginning of sorts. Of course, central to that was the new selling structure. Dubbed ‘see now, buy now’, Burberry has been instrumental in setting a new sales standard, putting the whole collection in flagship stores to buy immediately post runway show. And as part of that, the show itself became a shoppable catalogue rather than just a press showcase.
THE SHOW So how to make the most of this? In keeping with the newness, Burberry had an entirely new venue and set-up. No longer in a custom built tent next to the Prince Albert memorial, it had Makers House, a beautiful, poetic repurposing of the former Foyles bookshop on Charing Cross Road. The collection was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novel, Orlando (an eccentric time-travelling tale following the transformation of a young page boy at the court of Elizabeth I to a successful female writer) and the British garden decorator and interior designer, Nancy Lancaster. The Makers House courtyard was dotted with sculpted busts of famous British cultural icons and one wall was covered with a trompe l’oeil façade of Ditchley House, aka Nancy Lancaster’s Oxfordshire residence.
For an hour before the show, we meandered through Makers House, past a genteel string quartet, where we took in gigantic mood boards of inspiration and watched numerous craft makers who had been hand selected by The New Craftsmen demonstrate skills from calligraphy, to tassel weaving, to patchwork. It was all an immersive buildup to the theatre that would follow. Up a flight of floral carpeted stairs, the seating was set out in a warren of inter-connecting rooms. The guest list of previous seasons had shrunk from 1700 to a (comparatively) more intimate 700. Chintz-upholstered benches were laid out with a special copy of Orlando for each guest.
THE COLLECTION I was so glad to find that Burberry had gone in a much cooler direction compared to recent seasons. No one said this at the time of course but it was felt that Burberry had catered too much to the commercial international customer at the expense of creativity. This time the casting was more androgynous, the hair prettily unkempt as only an 18 year old’s can be, make-up barely there, but beautiful in an Elizabeth Peyton painting kind of way. (Slightly Dries perhaps?)
Elliot Smedley’s styling was lovingly layered, with pyjamas a-plenty, military capes, tapestry-look sweaters and trench coats galore, all accompanied by frilly poet’s blouses and Elizabethan-style ruff collars. It was louche, gender-fluid and bohemian, but resolutely not boho. A new bag was debuted, the Bridle Bag, an equestrian-inspired, saddle bag with studded strap. And shoe-wise, I loved the tasseled army boots and chunky snakeskin heels. Some people suggested an Allesandro-Michele-for-Gucci influence but that didn’t strike me until later. This was much less costume-y than Gucci, the styling had been elevated a few notches but it was all utterly wearable.
THE MUSIC An important note on the music (if you’ve not heard it, go watch the show now!). Music, especially live music, has always been a key component of Christopher Bailey’s Burberry. The show began to ethereal classical strains, which gradually built to a huge operatic crescendo, so throat-clutchingly emotional that by the end the place felt like it would erupt in crashing applause. (It didn’t.) Only when the show ended and we trooped downstairs to a reprise did I realise we had witnessed a live 21-piece orchestra (plus pianist and five vocalists), conducted by the music’s composer Ilan Eshkeri.
This little piece of magic is a crucial part of the experiential jigsaw. Like the clothes themselves, of course you immediately wanted to buy a souvenir of the evening. And you can; the specially composed score is available now to buy from iTunes or Apple Music. Clearly, no detail was overlooked in the making of this extravaganza.
POST SHOW Where in the past, showgoers would have rushed straight to the next show, the evening time slot meant we were invited to linger and enjoy the after-soiree. While we sipped champagne, listened to another live performance of ‘Reliquary’ and mingled with the models (who came out in their outfits for closer inspection), across town, there was more excitement afoot. It was time to shop the show.
The litmus test: would people buy? Yes they would and they did. According to my in-store witnesses, the flagship stores had worked hard to cultivate a special, intimate atmosphere, with invited VIPs gifted goody bags containing their own copy of ‘Orlando’ and plied with bubbles. A dramatic parting of curtains revealed racks laden with clothes as soon as the show – viewed on a live stream – had ended. Capes were swished, trench coats donned, blouses scooped up, and seemingly given the thumbs up, with customers spending thousands on their credit cards within minutes. The key here was customer service. Build something special, make it feel like a personal, emotional experience and boy, will they come.
THE MAKERS HOUSE That wasn’t the end of course. The final stroke of genius, how to engage that last layer of enthusiasts (those who may not have the funds for a £3000 braided military cape but nevertheless would love to be part of Burberry world) was the masterstroke. For a week after the show (there’s still time to go), Makers House became an experiential exhibition space, showcasing a range of Burberry-relevant crafts and performances to view at leisure.
Here you can see not just walls of inspiration materials for the collection – sketches, fabrics swatches, photos – but diagrams of the making of Makers House itself. Upstairs the ‘September’ collection is on display in its entirety, and on a couple of the days there were Burberry archivists on hand to talk about the company archive. As I said, no detail has been overlooked. It’s the perfect meeting of minds, music, design, craft, creativity, commerce and culture. There’s even a wonderful craft shop to buy pieces made by those demonstrating their skills and a delightful ‘Thomas’s’ cafe.
While ‘see now, buy now’ suggests speeded-up fashion, for Burberry it would appear to be the opposite. It’s about cultivating brand loyalty and an appreciation of the time and care that goes into its products. From this vantage point, I’m starting to see that it’s a rather canny strategy.
Burberry Makers House is at 1 Manette Street, W1 until 27th September 2016.
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WORDS: Disneyrollergirl/Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: Disneyrollergirl/Navaz Batliwalla; Burberry; GPS Radar; Anabel Navarro for Dazed
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