LFW: Christopher Bailey Closes A Door At Burberry

Burberry AW2018

Rainbows. Everything rainbows. That’s the best summation of the new Burberry collection, Christopher Bailey’s last for the label. Everything comes down to that one word.

Yet, there is so much more. When Christopher announced that he would be leaving the brand which he has dominated the past 17 years, everyone knew this last show would be a big deal, and it was. Of course, Burberry shows are always a big deal, the biggest in London, and there is always a preponderance of media coverage. Baley’s collections are huge, typically running somewhere close to 80 ensembles. They have also been controversial at times, especially when he messes with the silhouette of the label’s famous trench coat. Bailey has led the way in the company’s digital revolution, even to the point of putting a video studio in the company’s new headquarters in 2009. What he has done for the brand is tremendous but it hasn’t been without its controversies and his final show was no exception.

Fur is a big deal. Bailey set this season’s runway presentation in a massive 19th-century powerhouse, well away from downtown London. Getting there created the usual traffic turmoil that always accompanies these events. This season, however, saw the largest gathering of fur protestors outside the venue yet. They were loud. They were raucous. They were impossible to ignore. Between last season and now we’ve seen more than a dozen major labels abandon the use of fur and almost as many drop leather as well. There are sufficient means of achieving the same look, feel, and warmth without killing animals. Burberry has been a leader in so many other positive movements and even this evening’s show is an example of their social leadership on LGBTQ issues, but they’ve been absolutely silent on fur.

That’s a problem.

As much as I want to be all in on this season’s show and its glorious support of LGBTQ people and causes, I end up stopping short because of the fur issue. There are pieces in this collection that are wonderful, starting with the first rainbow dress coming down the runway, worn by the delightful Adwoa Aboah, or the multi-colored crocheted dress Misha Hart wore right after it. The mere sight of a rainbow puffer coat and vest on the runway late in the collection was heart-stopping. Closing the show with Bailey’s long-time friend and muse, Cara Delevigne, was brilliant. The world has needed someone to create this collection for a very long time. The fact that profits from Bailey’s rainbow check go to LGBTQ youth charities makes it all even better.

But that delightful, sweeping, floor-length rainbow cape coat Ms. Delevigne was wearing was real fur. That’s a problem because it creates ethical conflict. Ethics in fashion is an all-or-nothing issue. When a label makes an ethical stand they have to make sure they’re good on all the issues, not just the one they choose to highlight. Diversity, women’s issues, model abuse, and ethical sourcing are just a few of the issues that have tripped up other labels in the past couple of years. Making an ethical statement while ignoring an important issue such as fur is a bit like wearing a white suit with a giant coffee stain spilled down the front: everyone’s going to notice.

Inconsistencies such as this are ultimately the reason Bailey is leaving. While he has had some fantastic up seasons he has also had some major misses. If fashion were more like baseball, one might not worry as much about the misses. Homerun leaders also have more strikeouts. Burberry is a publicly held company, though. Profits matter more here than if the label were privately held. Among the sea of well-known and famous faces sitting on this front row were some more anonymous folks who are major investors, sizeable stockholders in the company. They had to walk past the protestors on their way in just like everyone else. While most might see the fur protests as an annoyance, for investors it represents a ripple. When the fashion economy is as unstable as it currently is, ripples are bothersome because they can quickly turn into tidal waves that sink a season’s profits. The time space between high-profit margins and considering bankruptcy is often as brief as two seasons, one year, of volatility.

This was, as many have been, a fantastic show. Long, swaying lights suspended from the ceiling, a collaboration with United Visual Artists, made for a unique ambiance where the bright colors stood out against the darkness. The stream of rainbow-colored lasers arching over the finale, an installation titled “Our Time,” was a loan from Museum of Old and New Art Australia. The collection not only looked back over the 17 years of Bailey’s career with the label but even further back into the 60s and 70s to pull out some favorite checks and silhouettes. Producing a collection full of historical best-sellers pretty much guarantees that Bailey leaves the company on a reasonably stable financial footing.

Here are some of our favorite images from this massive collection:

Burberry February 2018

Burberry February 2018

Burberry February 2018

Burberry February 2018

Burberry February 2018

Burberry February 2018

Burberry February 2018

Burberry February 2018

Burberry February 2018

Christopher Bailey has done a lot of good during his 17-year tenure at Burberry. He can look back proudly on all that he accomplished there and, after taking some well-deserved time off, contemplate what he wants to do next. Without question, the future is wide open to most anything he might want to do.

For whoever follows, the shoes to fill are large and the task ahead significant. Bailey was an unknown rookie coming in from Gucci when Burberry first hired him. Whether they can afford to take a similar risk now is a hotly debated issue. His successor not only has to deal with the fur issue, but try to chart a plan that accurately gauges the impact of emerging media and navigate the still unknown waters of an impending Brexit (the label has previously said it viewed Brexit as an opportunity but that was nearly a year ago). No one is going to have all the answers and it seems unlikely that we’ll see anything close to another 17-year run.

Christopher Bailey now closes a door and Burberry moves forward a better company than it was but still facing troublesome and unknown waters. Bailey’s official last day is March 31. No one expects to hear anything about his replacement just yet but it inevitably means that the anticipation for next season is already as large as it was for this one. We’ll think positive thoughts, wish Mr. Bailey and his family the best, try to find money for that puffer coat, and look forward to September.

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