Monday 21 September 2009

Burberry's head designer and CEO talk about coming back to London ahead of their show at fashion week

Burberry's creative director Christopher Bailey and CEO Angela Ahrendts give rare access behind-the-scenes of the label's show studio ahead of their return show at London Fashion Week.

LONDON, ENGLAND, UNITED KINGDOM REUTERS - Burberry gave rare behind-the-scenes access inside their studio ahead of the comeback show at London Fashion Week on Tuesday (September 23), set to be one of the most anticipated catwalks of the season.
The label has been showing in Milan and makes it return to home soil after ten years. Christopher Bailey, the label's creative director said he couldn't wait to show the collection before the home grown.

"Personally it's wonderful because I can sleep in my own bed but for Burberry I think it's just like we're coming home. It's a real celebration of fashion. Burberry is the great British brand and it's wonderful that we've been given the opportunity to bring the show here and to celebrate London and British fashion," he told Reuters Television.

Whether it was a permanent move, Bailey wasn't certain: "We're not saying yes, we're not saying no. We're just taking it day-by-day. We're loving behing here and we kind of approach everythign in that way, a very simple way. Let's see the reaction, let's see who comes, let's see the buyers, the press, the energy that we've got."

The brand has prided itself on being a quintessentially British brand, known primarily for trench coats which itself was its own patented style: epaulettes (a cloth placed over the shoulder used for ornamental purposes), back vent and D rings for buttons. The UK War Office commissioned the brand during World War I to make trench coats for its servicemen and since then little has changed.

"We're always inspired by what we're surrounded by. The heritage is a huge part of the inspiration. Thomas Burberry, the founder of the company, inspires practically everything we do. The trench coat is the beginning and end of everything we work on. But London is such an inspiring city from art, to film, to music, to design. It's so multi-faceted the inspiration here that it eats into this British attitude that we talk about at Burberry that really define Burberry style," said Bailey.

However, the brand suffered an identity crisis in the 1970s when it was adored mostly by tourists and ignored mainly by the very people the label was meant to dress: the English. But with Bailey at the helm in 2001, he set forth changing the brand's image from aging British design to the capturing the youth. He did so using a very simple but effective tool, celebrities.

First was Kate Moss who gave the model a cool Britannia edge, then Sam Riley, star of "Control" about Joy Division and the tragic life of lead singer Ian Curtis.

But the brand became overexposed with many working class youth wearing the trademark beige, white, black and red stripes as a rebellion against England's class system.

Burberry have now taken on Emma Watson, as the face of their autumn/winter 2009 campaign for another image makeover. Known better as Hermonie Granger in the "Harry Potter" films, Bailey said she symbolises a freshness and renewal for the brand.

"I think with the ad campaigns, we always try to show the different characters, the different British attitudes so Emma (Watson) reflects one of them. So in our different ad campaigns, I think we try to reflect different types of characters so yes it's young, yes we want it to be innovative, we want it to be exciting, we want it to be inspiring. Emma is a wonderful ambassador for the company. She's known throughout the world and she's a British beauty. So she's a wonderful part of the Burberry family," he said.

CEO Angela Ahrendts said she was "thrilled" with the momentum of the 153-year-old brand's top-end Prorsum range, whose spring-summer collection will close the 25th anniversary of London fashion week on Tuesday.

"The environment is still challenging," she said.

"We've got a lot of new initiatives in place, and markets have begun to rally, so we're cautiously optimistic that things will start to turn."

Burberry has been hit hard, alongside luxury peers, by the global economic downturn, but has mitigated the impact by cutting costs, jobs and inventories. It is also extending the brand into areas like footwear and children's clothes.

Burberry posted a 4 percent fall in quarterly revenue at constant exchange rates in July, compared with consultancy Bain & Co's prediction that global luxury sales will fall 10 percent this year on the same basis.

Ahrendts declined to comment on newspaper reports that Burberry is in talks with India's Genesis Colors with a view to forming a partnership that would open 20 to 30 stores across India over the next two years.

But she said India, like other emerging markets such as China and Latin America, was a growth opportunity, and the country's historical ties with Britain made it particularly appealing to Burberry.

"The historical links are absolutely what excite us the most. There's a natural affinity for the Burberry brand there," she said.

Burberry, which trades from about 120 retail stores, 250 concessions, 50 outlets, 85 franchise stores and the Internet in over 25 countries, currently has two shops in India and will open a third soon.

"In a perfect world I think it would be beneficial (to have a retail partner in India)," Ahrendts added.

Burberry's shares fell as much as 70 percent last year, but have reversed almost all of their losses this year, outperforming the DJ Stoxx personal and household goods index.

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