It's safe to say that since Christopher Bailey joined Burberry in 2001, the British company has seen a complete change in its fortunes. It has gone from ailing company with a damaged reputation to undoubtedly the biggest brand in the United Kingdom. Here we explore what and how Christopher Bailey did to the brand to make it great again.
Since joining Burberry in 2001, Christopher Bailey has become one of the biggest names in British fashion. He has been thanked and praised for his efforts to turn around Burberry with success. It is down to Bailey that the likes of Cara Delevingne, Naomi Campbell, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Kate Moss and Eddie Redmayne are associated with the brand and he has ensured that Burberry has gone from one of the most negated brands in the world to one of the best. Now he is the president and Burberry Creative Officer, but he has decided that in 2018 he will be stepping down from both positions.
Burberry was founded in 1856 by Thomas Burberry with the original intention of designing outdoor attire. It was the first house to design what is known as gabardine, which is completely breathable and waterproof. During the First World War, its coats were worn in the trench and since it has become so inherently part of British culture that Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince Of Wales have granted the company Royal Warrants. This was also the beginning of its iconic trench coat. A Burberry gabardine jacket was even worn by George Mallory on his attempt on Mount Everest in 1924. During this time, the brand was actually called 'Burberrys' and it wasn't until 1998 that Burberry changed its name to Burberry.
It increased in popularity and began attracting big names. In the 1970s and 1980s, Burberry began to manufacture other products and began selling the likes of trousers and shirts worldwide. Its profits rose rapidly and it begin to see its heyday.
The story began to change however when its famous check became one of the most copied prints in the world.
The Early Years
Christopher bailey joined Burberry 17 years ago as design director. Prior to this, he had roles at other companies. Notably from 1994 to 1996, he was the womenswear designer at Donna Karan and senior designer of womenswear at Gucci in Milan from 1996 to 2001.
When he joined Burberry, the brand was at its worst. Due to its popularity amongst celebrities that weren't particularly on brand, Burberry's iconic Nova check became associated with a certain 'naff' concept or tackiness. This wasn't helped in turn by the fact that it became one of the most counterfeited patterns in the world and there was no differentiation between real Burberry and knock off.
When Bailey first joined Burberry, it was heavily associated with 'chavs' and football hooligans. Every market had fake Burberry caps and the brand had lost its prestige. It got so bad that some venues actually began to ban the Burberry check from being worn.
In 2006, Rose Marie Bravo, who was the head executive at Burberry, retired. She was replaced by Angela Ahrendts, who joined from Liz Claiborne in January 2006, and took up the position of CEO in July 2006. This was the beginning of how Ahrendts and Bailey successfully turned around the Chav-like reputation that the brand had acquired.
Ahrendts and Bailey decided to strip back what Burberry had become. They removed the brand's check pattern from all except 10% of the products that Burberry sold. During this time, the brand began to sell online. In 2009 Bailey became Chief Creative Officer. In 2014, Ahrendts decided to take up a position at Apple and it was now that Christopher Bailey had free reign over all creativity at Burberry.
The Christopher Bailey Era
Since Bailey took over creative control, Burberry has completely transformed its image and the way it works. He is the man who began to make Burberry into one of the world's coolest brands, transforming the trench-coat maker into what it is today.
To do so, he began creating a whole new image for the brand and the first thing to do was to get some big names on side. He wanted to strip it of the 'chav' image it had become associated with, largely thanks to the likes of Daniella Westbrook donning the all-over check. In 2006, he came up with a strategy that would combine savvy business and marketing ideas with a new image. This was the year Burberry managed to claw its way back up, becoming a hot contender as one of the biggest fashion brands in the world.
Previously, stores all over the world had been selling different products, meaning that there was no coherence across the brand. Bailey changed this and began to implement a strategy into how the brand worked. As head of design as well as business, he decided to draw things right back. He focused on the heritage pieces, such as trench coats, and made these the key to Burberry's philosophy. Bailey began to bring a whole new lease of life to the brand. The next step was to bring its fashion shows back to England and in 2009, Bailey made the decision to stop showing the brand's collections in Milan and instead London Fashion Week became the home of Burberry.
Burberry Fashion Shows
Burberry fashion shows are without a fathom of a doubt the most hyped across the fashion schedules. The brand became the first to live stream its shows (which was a massive step in Burberry's digital strategy - more of this later) and gave people outside of the fashion industry the opportunity to get an inside look at what a Burberry show is like.
Burberry's shows, as part of Bailey's plan, explicitly target the millennial. Bailey believed that all of Burberry's competitors were ignoring them and that they had an opportunity here. The shows weren't just about showing collections, but they actually became a show. Bailey enlisted the likes of George Ezra, Tom Odell and Jake Bugg to sing at his shows (catapulting them all to fame consequently), while models walked down the catwalk. Initially, Burberry put on its fashion shows in Kensington Gardens, but more recently it has moved locations, which have included Makers House in Soho and Old Sessions House in Farringdon, London.
Burberry became the first brand to switch up the way it presented its collections and in 2016, Bailey announced the fashion house would only be showing two collections a year, labelled September and February. These collections would be instantly shoppable and has sparked a complete change in how the fashion industry works. The collections are seasonless and both men's and women's collections are now shown together. Window displays and the clothing in stores instantly change as soon as the catwalk show ends, meaning what you just saw can be bought straight away. This is pure brilliance on Bailey's behalf and has been applauded across the board.
“The changes we are making will allow us to build a closer connection between the experience that we create with our runway shows and the moment when people can physically explore the collections for themselves,” he said. “Our shows have been evolving to close this gap for some time. From live-streams, to ordering straight from the runway, to live social media campaigns, this is the latest step in a creative process that will continue to evolve,” he added.
Burberry has also put on bigger events, such as its London in LA show which saw the likes of Paloma Faith perform, while the brand celebrated all things Britain at the Griffith Observatory.
Burberry is the biggest brand in the world on social media. Bailey made sure this was a key aim of the brand and it has been one of his biggest successes. The Burberry Instagram account has 10.4 million followers, which is growing daily. This, added with the fact that it live streams its fashion shows, means that Burberry is targeting the right audience completely, which is the social media age.
Burberry's campaigns are now some of the best in the world. Christopher Bailey has enlisted some of the biggest names to star in campaigns. These have included Cara Delevingne, Eddie Redmayne, Naomi Campbell, Romeo Beckham and Suki Waterhouse. The campaigns have essentially given Cara Delevingne and Jourdan Dunn their careers and have propelled them to supermodel status. Even Emma Watson has starred in a Burberry campaign.
Gosha Rubchinskiy and Burberry
In 2017, Burberry and Gosha Rubchinskiy teamed up as part of Rubchinskiy's Spring/Summer 2018 collection. Rubchinskiy took the classic Burberry pieces and gave them an update with a streetwear vibe. Rubchinskiy was also part of the 'Here We Are' exhibition that sat alongside Burberry's September 2017 collection and show.
The Burberry check made a come back and Burberry began to see its 'chav' reputation as part of its heritage. It was a major change for the brand and one that worked. The show was a completely British affair, with a soundtrack of the Pet Shop Boys playing whilst models walked down the catwalk, as the likes of Kate Moss, Cara Delevingne, Skepta and Naomi Campbell watched. The clothes were typically Burberry, with checked caps and shirts paying homage to the brand's less fruitful years in a way that mocked them, but was also hugely popular.
On That Note
Christopher Bailey has taken Burberry to places that many people thought it would never go to. It has become the coolest brand in the world and has the support from a whole string of stars. Long gone are the days of its 'chav' reputation and now it has a stellar global accolades. Despite announcing that he will be leaving Burberry in 2018 after 17 years at the brand, and while life after Burberry will be a whole lot different for him, Bailey will forever be hailed as the man who changed its fortunes and made it a hugely popular fashion house again.