After 17 years as Chief Creative Officer at Burberry, Christopher Bailey has decided to part ways to ‘pursue new creative projects’ and is set to leave the brand in 2018.
For those of you asking, ‘Is this really a big deal?’ and ‘Who even is this guy?’ – let me inform you that Christopher Bailey took Burberry from a very small company and transformed it into the globally esteemed British brand that we know today.
When Bailey first joined Burberry, he was relatively unknown after being hired from his previous job at Gucci, but now 17 years on from his first day, he is known as the ‘Man of Burberry’. So to answer that question, yes. He’s a pretty big deal.
But how on earth did he do it?
I’m going to take you through the significant moments that helped transform Burberry from a small British brand into the global fashion empire of today.
The digital age
As one of the first fashion brands to live-stream a show, Bailey took Burberry into the forefront of a relatively new digital era. Bailey was smart in that he made sure his runway shows were streamed at lunchtime GMT so as to capture as many viewers as possible.
Noses were raised when Bailey decided to tweet some of the catwalk looks before they had even graced the runway, always trying new things in the way of incorporating social into the brand and being ahead of his time. This may have spoiled the surprise, but it showed Burberry as one of the most digitally forward brands of that time, a modern leader.
You want it? You can have it
When you’re sat front row at Milan or New York Fashion Week – other Fashion Weeks are available – and you spot a garment that you know will look amazing on you or would be perfect for an event that you have coming up, you think ‘when and where can I buy this?’. I’m guessing if you’re lucky enough to be sat front row, you don’t ask, you say ‘I want it. Now.’
Bailey led Burberry to take this step and made all of the brand’s runway clothes available to purchase straight away. I recently learnt this
from sitting front row at his London Fashion Week show and demanding an outfit when I visited the flagship store on Regent Street. All of the brand’s most recent collection was right there in front of me displayed on mannequins lining the shop floor. It was pretty spectacular to see.
Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren are another two brands that have also adopted this strategy to let customers purchase their collection straight away.
He had an eye for the ‘Next Big Thing’
Staying true to the Britishness of the brand, Bailey always sought out the ‘Next Big Thing’ to star in his campaigns from a roster of British actors, models and musicians. Working with names like Cara Delivingne, Emma Watson, Eddie Redmayne, James Bay and Jenna Coleman helped propel Burberry to its seat at the High Fashion table.
Burberry also signed Romeo Beckham to model in the brand’s first Christmas campaign in 2014 at only 12 years old. Another rising star in the modelling world? With Victoria and David Beckham as parents, I’m sure he’s set to go far, and Bailey will have spotted another face of the future before the rest of the world took notice.
London Fashion Week
London’s credibility as a fashion capital was already on the rise when Bailey decided to bring Burberry home to showcase his collections in London Fashion Week, but in doing so, he cemented LFW’s place in being one of the main fashion shows along with Milan, New York and Paris.
Burberry had previously been showcasing in Milan but in 2011, Bailey brought the British brand back to home soil where it is now the main event at London Fashion Week every year. The show took place at Kensington Gardens for a number of years with its last being A/W 16. If you’re a big name in the UK, you’re going to want to be seen sat in the front row at Burberry.
The check is back
A major turnaround that Bailey was able to achieve before announcing he was leaving, was to reinvent the check that became significant with the Burberry brand when it was still in its early stages. Bringing the pattern back to this September’s show, it made a very stand-out appearance on the runway, letting everyone know that the check is back.
Even Rihanna sported the look head-to-toe. And we all know that everything is only ugly until Rihanna wears it.
One thing Bailey stuck with was the trench coat. Burberry are renowned for their trench coats and this was one of the main items that got the brand noticed. If there’s two items that come to mind when you think of Burberry it’s the Burberry-checked scarf and the famous trench coat.
Not only did Bailey make sure to keep a focus on the trench coat, he helped it evolve. With every collection came a new take on the coat: hand painted, metallic, leather, studded – he kept it relevant.
What’s next for Burberry?
Marco Gobbetti took over as CEO earlier this year, with Bailey remaining as Chief Creative Officer. Bailey will officially step down from his role in March 2018 and leave the brand entirely by December 2018. There has been no confirmation on who is to take over, but of course there are always rumours.
Word on the web is that Phoebe Philo is set to take over Bailey’s role and has worked with CEO Gobbetti for a number of years in the past. This rumour stems from reports that Céline (the brand of which Philo is director) have been interviewing designers to replace Philo, who has been at the brand for the last ten years.
But what impact will this have on the strong Britishness of the brand? A breath of fresh air, perhaps? A new direction?
I’m sure that Burberry will want to keep its status as Britain’s only luxury mega-brand and I think the only way to do this is by staying true to it’s homage in the way of British trends and styles.
Is Philo the woman for the job? Time will tell.