Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s Creative Director, has revamped a rather conventional label of British fashion. His secret is to look ahead while respecting the brand's strong heritage. By Lina Vaz
The last Burberry Prorsum in Milan was a success: feminine and modern with a few reinterpretations of its cultural past. Burberry continues to open into new territories. Today, the brand’s head office is located where Burberry’s founder, Thomas Burberry, opened his first shop in London back in 1891.
The environment is contemporary although you can feel the historical charge of the place. Bailey was working with a few designers on the top floor, a beautiful and inviting open plan full of natural light. He met me with a relaxed smile.
What do you admire the most about Thomas Burberry?
He was very modern for the time he started the company. First of all, he understood the notion of mixing emotional aesthetics with functionality.
The idea to protect from the rain, wind and cold was important but it was also fundamental that it was fashionable, and that people could feel comfortable.
On the other hand, what strikes me the most is the fact that he thought in a global way, he travelled a lot and funded the aerial industry, when the aeroplanes were just starting to be used.
He opened a shop in Buenos Aires and another in Paris in a time when no one was thinking that way. He was very modern, I think he was a little eccentric for his time, maybe that’s why Burberry remains strong after 150 years.
What makes Burberry unique?
Rose Marie and I think this is a very elastic company. (Rose Marie Bravo is the Financial Director, responsible for the strong re-emergence of the brand in 2001. She was acclaimed as the most successful businesswoman in Europe that year by the Wall Street Journal).
It’s a brand aimed at different lifestyles and generations. We don’t aim just at the young trendy woman but also to a much more classical and traditional woman. The notion of family is our reference. We dress the grand-mother, the parents, the children and the dogs.
Burberry has started as a family business, that’s the concept from the beginning and the reason behind its longevity. It’s not just about fashion trends, we have a more classical base which is very important to us.
Kate Moss and Stella Tennant are models who often appear in Burberry’s advertising campaigns. Why them?
They represent a young and modern woman. Kate is very Londoner, very cool, she’s a strong woman, she’s a mother and she knows how to run her career in an intelligent way.
Stella is also young and modern, but she’s more aristocratic, she comes from a family with a lineage, she’s married and she has three children, and she has also a successful career. They represent different sides of Burberry.
After so many imitations of the 1920's Burberry check, is it still possible to maintain the exclusivity that a luxury brand demands?
As soon as you work for an important brand, there are copies. I think people want integrity and originality. We try to protect the icons of Burberry’s style, but I think that some people buy copies while others prefer the culture and integrity of a genuine brand.
Rose Marie Bravo said to Pop magazine that she likes your notion of style and above all your ability to be egoless. Do you see yourself in that way?
I don’t feel particularly interested about egocentric people. And I hope this extends to me. I never chose this industry to be famous, it’s part of my work to communicate about Burberry’s world.
What I enjoy the most is to be in a house with a strong culture and heritage, where I’m able to make a new design. I’m not interested in going to parties and appear in newspapers and magazines. My viewpoint is different.
What is the most valuable thing that you’ve learned working for Donna Karan and for Tom Ford at Gucci?
What I’ve learned with Donna and Tom is that we should only do something if we put 100% of energy on what we are doing, if something tells us that it is the right thing to do; to do everything with 100% energy and passion.
I think true integrity is also important. Whenever I work, I put all my strength and energy in what I do. I noticed this when I was working with them.
You told Wallpaper* magazine that your favourite park is Green Park, and you love the sense of intimacy that it gives you. Do you put this sense of intimacy into the clothes you design?
Yes, completely. I think clothes have their own individuality. I work with the model to make sure she feels alright, I go to shops and I observe the way people try and buy the clothes…
I think it’s important not loose the connection between the final client and the creative process. Now, people have a lot of choice, each garment has to have something special which works as a connection point.
You also said you have a very relaxed attitude when you’re working. How can you manage to have this attitude with so much responsibility?
It’s natural. You just saw me; I like to work with my team, I’m not interested in being in an office, I’m part of Burberry’s team, it’s important to keep in touch with all the production process.
Here in the studio, there’s always music, the environment is friendly, there’s a lot of visits… I don’t like to be formal. I’m young and I think now people are much less formal than the previous generation.
In your last collection, you were inspired by Virginia Woolf and other thinkers of the period between the World Wars. What fascinates you the most about this period?
It’s the whole environment at that time, it was a very creative time, and I like the strong vision and the ideals behind the aesthetics and the lifestyle. I like the poetic romance of that time.
What is your main concern as Burberry’s Creative Director?
I’m just interested in pushing the company forward, respecting its heritage and building from the foundations of its history. But, at the same time, it’s important to challenge people’s perceptions and move forward. People need new things, they need to be stimulated. For me, it’s about finding a balance between the cultural heritage and innovation.
Published by Elle Portugal in January 2005. All rights reserved.