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“Trench coats”, “checked patterns”, “fit models” and “chavs”. These were just a few of the most common answers when asking a random selection of people what sprung to mind when thinking about the British designer brand, Burberry. Loved by the world’s A-list, from Victoria Beckham to Jennifer Aniston, and with 473 stores in 48 countries, Burberry is undoubtedly one of British fashion’s success stories.
For those that don’t know much about Burberry, “chavs” might seem somewhat out of place for a luxury fashion house. However, it was during the 1970s that the designer label became associated with casualwear, which was lapped up by footballers (and their WAGs). This led to those who couldn’t afford Burberry (but still wanted to resemble their footballing heroes) developing a trend of wearing cheaper fake Burberry knock-offs – dominated by the classic check pattern – and thus the chav association was born.
However, since then, Burberry has completely rebranded itself, largely through high fashion advertising campaigns, featuring top models such as Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Kate Moss and Emma Watson. But Burberry was a popular British brand far before its changing image of the late 90s. Established in 1856 by Thomas Burberry (at the mere age of 21), the original focus was on sturdy outdoor wear. What’s more, the name of the fashion house actually changed to Burberry’s not long after it was founded, becoming known as “Burberry’s of London”.
Most people would agree that the trench coat is one of Burberry’s most iconic items, but not many are aware of its origin. In 1914, Burberry was commissioned by the British war office to make sturdier coats that would resist the constant drizzle (something we’re all far too familiar with here) for its officers during World War One - hence “trench” coat. Since then, this classic mac has been snapped up by fashionistas the world over, immortalised as a sign of timeless elegance by Audrey Hepburn in that iconic scene at the end of the film, Breakfast At Tiffany’s. However, what really secures the trench’s status as a must-have wardrobe staple is that it can be worn by both genders, as demonstrated by Humphrey Bogart in another classic, Casablanca. On the Burberry website it’s now possible to customise your own bespoke trench, choosing the colour, length, fabric, belt, buttons and more (although it could set you back a cool £2,795!)
The latest offerings from Burberry feature all the classic pieces this iconic brand is known and loved for, but also keeps things fresh with a distinctly tribal feel: for example, chunky necklaces, stripey hats, zig-zag prints and beaded embellishment (on everything from shoulders to shoes) feature.
As CEO of Burberry, Angela Ahrendts is currently at the helm of the company, with Christopher Bailey as Chief Creative Officer. One might think that such a long-established company would be keen to hold on to the past, but such is not the case for Burberry, which has demonstrated itself to be one of the most innovative companies in the fashion industry. (In 2011, the brand was named the most digitally competent luxury brand by New York University.) For example, what had long been the reserve of fashion editors and It-girls is no more, as Burberry have started live-streaming their twice-yearly catwalk shows at London Fashion Week, and added the ability for customers to buy straight from the runway for delivery in seven weeks (the collections aren’t usually available for months). The Burberry show is always one of the most highly anticipated, and never fails to attract a star-studded Frow (fashion speak for “front row) or surprise audiences – the snow falling on to the runway during the Autumn/Winter 2011 collection springs to mind. What’s more, as of January 2012, Burberry is officially the most popular luxury brand on Facebook and Twitter, with an astounding ten million fans and 701,617 followers respectively.
When asked what she thought of Burberry, a top London fashion buyer responded with “true, British style”, and that just about sums it up.