Christopher Bailey rescued Burberry from the “Chavs”. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a Chav as a “a young lower-class person who displays brash and loutish behaviour (English spelling) and wears real or imitation designer clothes.” These were the types of people who came to love the historically stodgy English brand in the 1990s. They wore cheap foreign imitations of the classic Nova Check design on hats, shorts, shoes and all kinds of ways that horrified the Burberry executives.
After joining Burberry in 2001, Bailey used his genius for steering taste by staging elaborate fashion runway shows with a very British theme. He enlisted UK celebrities such as Victoria Beckham and Emma Watson to wear his new, high end stuff. He’s also on the cutting edge of the British music scene, helping launch the careers of Jake Bugg & James Bay, who’s songs would play at the Burberry shows.
There are a lot of elements at play in making some things hip and others passe’. The cheaply made look alike products were ruining the Burberry image. Bailey realized he needed to get ahead of the knockoffs. Previously, the way fashion would work was that the fashion houses would show their latest designs at a runway show. Then, about six months later, those designs would be available for sale. Industrial spies would copy the designs and send them to third world countries where the copyright laws are not strictly enforced. Knockoffs using cheap material and shoddy workmanship would soon flood into western markets, undermining the reputation of the original designers. Bailey arranged it so that his clothes were available at the runway show. They were selling the originals long before the competition could copy them.
Another key to his success, was to stress exclusivity. Some items would have a limited run of only twenty garments. These were marketed to the very rich who didn’t want to be seen at fancy events looking like anybody else.
Burberry has also branched into fashion accessories with great success, including handbags and scents. The “It” handbag by Burberry sold for thousands of dollars when it debuted in 2007.
Will Burberry’s brand stay relevant in the future? Here’s a hint. One of Bailey’s newest brand ambassadors is a young man named Romeo Beckham, the appropriately named 15 year old teenage heart throb son of Victoria & David Beckham who are English fashion icons in their own rights. It’s safe to say that Burberry’s fortunes look good.
It’s not clear why Bailey is leaving Burberry or what he’s going to do now. Even if he spends the rest of his life on a sunny beach, he will still be remembered as one of the giants of the fashion industry.