Burberry showed it’s firmly back at the top of the couture tree this week, inviting everyone from Kylie Minogue to Jodie Comer and Jason Statham to its first London Fashion Week show in several years.
The vintage fashion brand – famous for its Burberry ‘Nova’ check, which once lined its 1920s rain macs before being used to create clothes with it in the Swinging Sixties – showcased its latest collection at trendy London’s Highbury Fields on Monday, with the FROW bulging with big names.
Creative director Daniel Lee launched the heritage brand’s spring/summer collection and judging by Monday’s London Fashion Week show, Burberry is firmly back on track – with the A-listers offering their seal of approval by donning garments by the company.
The ‘new’ trench – a modern take on the old classic Burberry is famed for – dominated. Lee’s take is belted low, cut slimmer and with exaggerated lapels.
The familiar beige colour featured this week, but the focus was more on black, brilliant white and striking print.
The traditional check made its comeback on the lining. Wind back the clock to the early noughties though and the check that had helped make Burberry brand a global fashion hit was almost its undoing.
Here, FEMAIL looks at the rise, fall and rebirth of one of Britain’s most recognisable fashion brands:
FROM BOND STREET STORE TO KATE MOSS COOL
The high-end fashion house – arguably Britain’s premier luxury label – came from humble beginnings.
The brand was founded by Thomas Burberry, teetotaller and devout Baptist, in 1856. He went on to invent gabardine, the waterproof fabric that revolutionised rainwear.
Roald Amundsen went to the South Pole and Ernest Shackleton to Antarctica, in Burberry. Then the War Office commissioned the company to design the ‘trench coat’, worn by officers in World War I.
In an early case of celebrity endorsement, Lord Kitchener declared himself a fan and civilians started wearing them after the war.
Burberry made aviation-wear and skiwear but remained a quiet London firm until Rose Marie Bravo, an American executive, took over in 1997.
She raised its profile, expanded into America, commissioned an advertising campaign starring Kate Moss in 1999 and, most significantly of all, hired Christopher Bailey on the design team in 2001.
HOW NOVA CHECK BECAME EARLY NOUGHTIES NIGHTMARE
Back in 2002, the design had been dubbed ‘chav check’ after it was embraced by far from A-list stars like actress Danniella Westbrook who famously wore it head-to-toe on an outing with her Burberry-clad daughter, complete with a checked pushchair.
It was also favourite of Spice Girl Victoria Beckham who was still very firmly in WAG territory at the time, as opposed to her current high fashion status.
The brand wasn’t just the preserve of celebrities with the cash to invest in a high end brand. Immediately recognisable, the Burberry check was also an affordable way to access luxury with baseball caps, for instance, costing £50.
Such was the popularity of the brand in the 2000s, Welsh rap group Goldie Lookin Chain organised a ‘chav rally’ in 2004 – complete with a ‘Burberry’ car
Worse still, it was easy to copy and spawned an industry of even cheaper counterfeits. It became associated with football hooligans and some venues banned anyone wearing it, so entrenched was its connection with anti-social behaviour.
In the words of social commentator Peter York, author of the Official Sloane Ranger Handbook: ‘It was associated with people who did bad stuff, who went wild on the terraces.
‘Quite a lot of people thought that Burberry would be worn by the person who mugged them.’
THE COMEBACK – WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM CARA AND KATE
So, how did the brand unpick the negativity around the brand and rebuild to the point where almost every star in town in clambering for a front-row seat to the label’s latest London show?
In short, by the late 90s, the brand had become a victim of its own success. But the firm refused to admit defeat. Steps were taken to stop the rot — the caps went out of production, and the use of check was reduced across the board. In 2004 Bailey was promoted to Creative Director. Burberry was becoming a more serious player.
In 2006, a turning point came in the form of another American CEO with an impressive CV, Angela Ahrendts.
She arrived and, together with Bailey, performed the remarkable feat of carving out a strategy to move Burberry firmly back off the backs of the undesirables into the ‘hot’ zone, using a combination of design skill, marketing savvy and business sense.
Kate Middleton has certainly also helped the Burberry cause. A champion for British designers, she’s worn the label frequently in the last decade or so, offering a reminder of its strong heritage.
A month before her wedding to Prince William in 2011, the now Princess of Wales wore a cream Burberry coat on a visit to Northern Ireland. And last year, she wore a plaid green mid-length Burberry dress while overseas in Boston for the Earthshot prize.
Celebrities fell in love with the brand once more. A Burberry poncho carrying a personal monogram and costing more than £1,000 proved central to a sales boom in 2015.
The wool-and-cashmere designs, first modelled on the catwalk by Delevingne in 2014, went on to be worn by Victoria Beckham, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Sienna Miller and Sarah Jessica Parker.