Listen to this article
Christopher Bailey, chief creative and chief executive officer of Burberry, pulled at his sweater. “This is probably Brit,” he said. And then his blazer: “this is probably London.” He was referring to the former names for Burberry’s lower price labels, which used to sit beneath the catwalk line Burberry Prorsum. No more. The labels have been erased, and now all come under the single umbrella: Burberry. For its catwalk show at least, it worked.
For the most part, there was a new ease and reality to the mix, with an emphasis on tracksuits, field jackets and various military coats. Many of the pieces were designs straight from the archive, matched with pants that kicked slightly into a thin flare and some great washed blue jeans. Of the whole show, I spotted only one appearance of tailored jacket and tie. “Two, actually,” said Bailey. “The other tie was hidden underneath.”
Starting to get the message? Menswear brands are setting their stall on a new informality: tech padded coats; military parkas; sneakers — this is now the bread and butter. Did he design up these previously commercial pieces to make them more catwalk suitable? “We didn’t do anything different,” he said. “It was literally the pieces that I designed for Brit or London that felt right to put on the runway. It feels like the way people live. It’s more of a reality. People don’t live in those boxes of ‘this is smart’, ‘this is casual’.”
This new high-low mix allows for catwalk juxtaposition, but Bailey should be careful with the heights to which he aims. The show included two gross fur zip-ups, shown either side of an MA1 bomber. The bomber looked great. One of the fur zip-ups was an intarsia of the Burberry check, oversized, set at a diagonal, white on black. Yes really. Maybe there’s someone in the world who would buy it. Doesn’t mean Burberry should show it.
Indeed the show was too long. There could have been an edit of the pieces that felt too closely related to Saint Laurent, especially the sequin Breton stripe sweaters. The rest of the show was strong enough not to need it.
Backstage at Burberry is always a centrifugal scrum, with Bailey at the centre while his guests (Brooklyn Beckham, etc) push through for a photo, and hacks swirl trying to grab a quote. It’s probably a scene unfamiliar to most CEOs. When he’s doing a show, how much of his mind is on the catwalk, and how much is on the state of the economy in China, a key market for the brand? “It’s very difficult to separate those different worlds,” he said. “You obviously have to focus on different things at different times but for the show I just don’t think in those terms. You can be as creative and pragmatic whether you’re working on numbers or whether you’re working on a show.”
He pauses. “That doesn’t answer your question. Sorry. I’m not meant to be evading you. People think you have to be a certain way, and I’ve never been like that.”
It’s time for Bailey to move on. Right now, the year ahead for his CEO brain looks to be one of uncertainty. For the most part, the creative Bailey has gotten off to a sure start.
For more reports from the shows, go to our fashion weeks page on FT.com