‘Nature, who has played so many queer tricks upon us, making us so unequally of clay and diamonds’ and Burberry
Christopher Paul Bailey has announced that he is leaving Burberry. Adele exclaimed on Instagram: ‘Christopher Bailey and Burberry were the first major fashion house to dress me and my big arse! He is so enthusiastic about all British talent and he always collaborated with my insecurities to create outfits for me that have become a signature for me and made me feel fucking great! Mate, you’ll be missed but can’t wait to see what you do next. Love x’. The frank appreciation of Bailey, from Adele, captures what it truly means to be British. A vision that Bailey prides himself on, and propels into Burberry, as he encapsulates the ‘grit of the street and the nobility of the Queen’ in all that he undertakes.
Bailey is set to step down from his role, of president and chief creative officer of Burberry, at the end of March 2018. Burberry is 161 years old and Bailey reigned over this British luxury fashion house for 17 years. During his time he transformed it into a brand that the Duchess of Cambridge exhibited with pride on the front of Vogue in 2016 whilst youngsters seized the nova check pattern as a streetwear statement.
Christopher Bailey graduated from the Royal College of Art in 1994. This was a place where he treasured the diversity and importance of filmmakers, industrial designers and graphic designers. After graduating from design school, Bailey worked as a womenswear designer for the visionary Donna Karan for two years, before moving to Gucci as senior designer of womenswear under Tom Ford’s multifaceted and creative direction. Burberry had always been shown as part of Milan Fashion Week, but in 2009, the brand began showing at London Fashion Week. Our brand had returned home. London sighed with relief as the invigorating brand diffused throughout the week and dignified the character of London Fashion Week as a whole.
Growing up in Halifax, Yorkshire-born Bailey, didn’t know that the fashion world existed. All he knew is that he gravitated towards magazines. He didn’t pinpoint it as fashion but saw it as an identity: his identity. His mother was a window dresser for Marks & Spencer and his father was a carpenter which influenced Christopher’s intrinsic love for making things and seeing how things were made. His grandfather was an electrician whom Bailey described as a ‘crazy gadget person who shaped the way he’s seen the world’. The richness of his inheritance is portrayed through his work. The slow process of craft, such as the complex weaving behind the classic trench coat, and how it intertwines with the speed of online demonstrates Bailey’s DNA flowing through everything he accomplishes.
Under Bailey’s crown, Burberry ruled the social media revolution. In 2009 Burberry was the first brand to live-stream its show and more recently it premiered a collection on Snapchat. In the 2009 campaign, ‘Art of the Trench Coat’, Burberry fused with the street style photographer, Scott Schuman, who shot 100 different people wearing the signature trench coat and outwear. This celebrated the heritage and history of the Burberry trench whilst snapshotting the delight of the individuals modelling it. The distinguished photographer, Mario Testino, has also lensed Burberry campaigns which have starred Lily Donaldson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Eddie Redmayne and Emma Watson to name a few.
In conversation with Vogue’s Edward Enninful, he spoke how he voted ‘stay’ in the Brexit vote, and how he pragmatically approaches the changing world of today. He stated that ‘everyone around us is changing’ from the way we date, holiday, work, shop, eat and it was his duty to evolve Burberry and adapt to this new world. Bailey recognises that contemporary young people are broader with their knowledge and, through Burberry, he wanted to make the best of the situation by reclaiming what it is to be British again as our identity was challenged.
It is clear that Christopher Bailey is drawn to the juxtaposition of the British culture. Britain is a juxtaposition of highs and lows, the grandeur and the working class and the ‘eclectic mix of everything he loves about Britishness’ is encapsulated in Burberry. This was portrayed in Burberry’s 2017 February show. Anna Calvi, her band and the members of the Heritage Orchestra and Choir, performed live. The achievement of the worker’s hand and beautiful craftsmanship weaved into the richness of modernity as the power of mixing two genres of music sowed it together. This celebrated the contradictory elements of Britain.
The 2016 September Burberry show was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s ‘Orlando’. Orlando is a male nobleman, in England, during the reign of Elizabeth I. He undergoes a mysterious change of sex around the age of 30. The novel touches on issues of gender and self-knowledge as Woolf expresses: ‘‘Nature, who has played so many queer tricks upon us, making us so unequally of clay and diamonds’. Woolf’s oxymoronic language seizes the sensation of Burberry which commemorates the contradictions of British culture as Cara Delevigne and Adwoa Aboah sat in the front row watching the models parade to IIan Eshkeri’s ‘Reliquary’. Bailey merged clay and diamonds and melded two world together.
One of my favourite shows was September 2017 where the Pet Shop Boys performed live at Old Sessions House, Clerkenwell, London. The lyrics, ‘you were always on my mind’, echoed throughout the former courthouse as the nova check patterned baseball caps wore the models that strode down the runway.
The oxymoron of these shows are everything Burberry. Although Christopher Bailey is ‘excited to pursue new creative projects’, Burberry will always have his royal stamp of elegance, contradiction and what it means to have pride in Britain.