It’s been four months since Burberry shocked the fashion industry (and investors) by announcing that its young, whip-smart chief creative officer, Christopher Bailey, would replace outgoing CEO Angela Ahrendts when she departs for Apple this spring. The long transition period has allowed Bailey, and those around him, to restructure his vastly expanded duties — including the naming of a new design chief and “letting go” of creative details he was heavily involved in before.
“You just have to learn — and you have to do this in everything that you do — that you have to hold on to the things that are really important, and let go of the things that are less important,” Bailey said backstage Monday when asked if he had been less “hands on” with Burberry’s autumn/winter 2014 collection than collections past. He said he’s recognized that there are things — the show, for example — that his staff simply doesn’t need him on. “The show is an important part of the expression of Burberry, but I don’t need to sit in on every single meeting… When you trust the people you work with, it means you can let go of things.”
While Bailey may have been less involved in the nitty gritty details, the collection presented Monday — and the seamlessly run show that surrounded it — was an especially strong one (see slideshow below). Inspired by the “Bloomsbury artistic set” of the early 20th century, a group that included sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf and painter Duncan Grant, Burberry showed a much gentler, more bohemian collection than we’re used to seeing from the brand. Gone were the stiff, shiny trench coats decorated with skins and fur; in their place were soft-flowing dresses and cozy shearling jackets and coats, many of them hand-painted with floral motifs. Scarves (and later, ponchos) featured largely throughout the collection, often worn around the neck and held in place with a belt.
Burberry isn’t the first label to incorporate painting into a collection in a major way, but it’s interesting that the team decided not to partner with an established artist — as Prada did with James Jean for its fairy collection in 2007, or Louis Vuitton did with Yayoi Kusama in 2012. Instead, Burberry turned to its own design team — which, per Bailey’s description, sounds like an incubator (he calls it a “design school”) for artists of diverse talents. There are embroiderers and digital designers, as you’d expect, but also painters, print makers and a music department. Many of the runway pieces they painted will be replicated by hand for stores — in fact, several are already available for pre-order on Burberry’s website at around $10,000 a pop.
If the collection is anything to go by, Burberry’s creative direction remains in good hands. Now we’ll have to see about the business.