Gender fluidity, British history, and a rich assortment of texture and colour was the fashion story at Burberry — even if it seemed at the start that the event might play second fiddle to the clothes.
Arriving in an old building in London’s Soho — Maker’s House — the audience was met with a green garden filled with marble statues, including busts of British historical figures such as Queen Victoria, whose current television double, actress Jenna Coleman, posed beside her stern royal face.
A trompe l’oeil house representing 1920s socialite and tastemaker Nancy Lancaster planted Burberry firmly in the past - and so did the inside area.
Since Burberry, like many other upscale fashion houses, has been struggling to re-vitalise a sluggish market, there might have been other reasons for this brand to rein-in the recent high-drama shows in vast tents in London’s Royal parks. But everything on the sets, from the vintage-style carpets to the classical music played by a live orchestra, suggested a tribute to Burberry’s long history, from its foundation in 1856 to its commission in the First World War as the maker of British Army “trench” coats and the creation of its iconic checked lining in the 1920s when these coats became popular with the general public.
Those upper-crust soldiers of the past would probably have passed away in shock at the way Christopher subverted all the original codes of the house, especially the trench coats, which were once once hyper-masculine clothes, buttoned up in every sense. Instead, it was hard to tell the boys’ clothes from the girls’ — except that the male version tended to be the softest and the most colourful.
Introducing a strong historical note going right back to Elizabethan England (that’s Elizabeth I, not the current Queen), the Burberry collection included a shrimp-pink velvet jacket with a pale blue satin waistcoat (worn by a man), a floral pyjama jacket with a white frilly collar (also on a man) and the same white ruffs worn with a green leaf-patterned woman’s dress.
This gender-fluid dressing included trench coats presented as silken bathrobes, while only the cavalry jackets had a strong whiff of the horseman. Otherwise the accent was on the peacock male.
It was a daring and original stand by Christopher Bailey — and it worked visually. Although it would have seemed much stronger if he had the courage to cut back on the numbers and present the essence of his thought process in a show of 40 outfits. Instead there were 84.
I would like to be a fly on the wall at the Burberry flagship stores this week, where selling these clothes started as the show — in reality and live-streamed online — ended. It was a powerful statement from Bailey, the brand’s Creative Director and Chief Executive Officer.
Will men rush for the lush? Are women going to shop transgender and buy the men’s outfits? Is Burberry’s attitude the start of a retail revolution? Whatever the answer, from across the world the audience lapped up the show. And unlike Queen Victoria’s haughty statement, we were much amused.