Burberry: How Christopher Bailey rescued the brand with the chequered past


SS18 collection London fashion week.


Burberry’s classic check print was showcased at the London Fashion Week Spring/Summer 18 show.

Christopher Bailey joined Burberry back in 2001, at a time when it was tainted with a bad image, profits were falling and fashion fans were turning elsewhere for their latest fix.

He has been credited for completely transforming Burberry through show-stopping catwalk collections that are available to buy straight off the runway.

Bailey has also drawn on the brand’s British heritage, championing the UK’s biggest models and musicians at Fashion Week and drawing the world’s biggest names to experience it all on the front row.

As the Yorkshire-born designer announces his departure from the company, we look back at the legacy he’s left for the leading British fashion brand.

Who could have predicted that one paparazzi shot could single-handedly bring down a huge luxury label?

Well that’s exactly what happened in 2002, when actress Danniella Westbrook was photographed dressed head to toe in Burberry, with her daughter in a matching outfit.

Fashion designer Alex Eagle tells the BBC that this was “the pivotal moment when the perception of the brand needed to change.

“The print had been too overexposed and that image shows it became synonymous with ostentatious luxury,” Eagle says.

  • Burberry heading further upmarket
  • Christopher Bailey to leave Burberry

This came at a time when the brand had become associated with the football world. Players’ wives and girlfriends as well as fans famously donned the print during the 2002 World Cup.

Burberry check also became ubiquitous with fake goods, meaning it had lost its exclusivity and more importantly, profitability.

Christopher Bailey was to become the man who changed all that.

He joined the company 17 years ago as a design director, working his way up to chief creative officer in 2014.



Bailey accepted his Menswear Designer of the Year award at the British Fashion Awards in December 2013

From the company’s worst point in 2002 to the current day, share prices have risen 729%.

Eagle says Bailey, who is just 46, has managed to convince the fashionistas that Burberry is again cutting edge, exclusive and the only place to be at Fashion Week.

“I think he’s a genius – he’s created our best British global brand, it’s young, desirable and cool.

“Burberry previously was synonymous with bad taste, now it has an identity which feels very British and can be sold around the world.

HUW JOHN/REX/Shutterstock


Victoria Beckham wore a matching Burberry bandana and bikini to a signing in 2000

“His shows have been Britain’s most slick, luxurious and global,” she says.

Lucy Felton is a fashion journalist and blogger and agrees that Burberry’s modern-day success is entirely down to Bailey’s vision.

“So much of Burberry’s DNA is about Bailey”, Felton tells the BBC.

“His shows are big amazing glamorous affairs, with Kate Moss or Cara Delevingne closing the show, he always has big fashion icons.

“The show is one of the highlights of fashion week. It takes place in Kensington Gardens and is so grand. Celebrities fill the front rows and it’s such an event.

“It’s got such an uplifting feeling after a few days of shows and it has such a fun charm about it – they hold some of the best shows and parties.

Eagle agrees, describing Bailey’s fashion shows as “extravaganzas” thanks to big names on both on the catwalk and the front row, which has included Anna Wintour and Mario Testino.



Jake Bugg played the Burberry Women’s Fashion Week show in February 2016

Felton also highlights another great factor Bailey brought to Burberry – the hottest music talent.

“Bailey’s always supported British music too – he launched the careers of Jake Bugg and James Bay by having them play on his catwalks, which people don’t know unless they’re a fashion insider,” she says.

She adds Burberry is also behind the phenomenon of the “it” bag – its Prorsum collection creates each season’s most coveted possession, worn by celebrities and sold at a high price point to add to its desirability.

“His ‘it’ bag was a real turning point, he created the seasonal bag that everyone wanted.”



Actress Mena Suvari was pictured in 2007 with her Burberry Knight “it” bag

It all started back in 2007 with the studded Knight bag, which was made as part of a limited run.

It was a huge hit with celebrities, being seen on stars like Cameron Diaz, Emma Watson and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley.

“I remember the Knight bag being four figures at the time and that was a big deal, it would cost £15,000 now,” she says.

“Most big fashion houses do premium pieces anyway and Burberry knew what they were doing by uplifting prices.

“People will pay big money for amazing and limited pieces; they want an exclusive with only 20 items made.”



Burberry’s Spring Summer 17 show created much interest

Bailey is also credited for creating ready-to-wear-fashion, which is available to buy straight off the catwalk.

“He created catwalk to consumer and the ability to buy now,” Eagle says.

“He avoided high street copies because he would exhibit his show and those items would be able to be bought in store there and then, rather than being in the store six months later. He was trying to be ahead of the copycat.”



Romeo Beckham appeared at the premiere of the Burberry festive film in 2015

The Burberry tartan has even become popular again. The fashion house’s 2014 Christmas film featured Romeo Beckham in a classic cashmere scarf, while Burberry trench coats are again being seen as classy and desirable.

“There’s been a real fashion resurgence complimenting that side of things as well – the tartan is still an attractive part of the brand,” Felton says.

“Romeo Beckham’s ad also created a new generation of people wearing the scarf, showing it as a lovely British brand and this all feeds into its charm.”

Eagle says Bailey has managed to “go 360” by bringing back the Burberry print in a chic way.

“He’s made something that feels English and London by nailing that look of tailoring.

“Bailey’s now celebrating the check in the chic way, he’s put touches of it in the Macintoshes and knitwear, whilst scarves feel preppy and quaint.

“He’s going to be a very hard act to follow,” she says.



Cara Delevingne models the 2017 Christmas collection

One of the problems Burberry faced was that it became too accessible for everyone with low-priced accessories that cheapened the brand.

This was arguably one of the biggest problems the fashion house would face – by raising price points they would lose a large amount of shoppers.



Burberry Beauty is marketed to fit with other fashion houses’ luxury brands

That’s where Burberry Beauty fits the bill, created in 2010 it is marketed as a luxury make-up brand, sold exclusively in high-end department stores but with prices that match their competitors like YSL and Estee Lauder.

“Burberry Beauty has become a lot more popular over the last few years, it’s quite cult and has really gorgeous luxury packaging, it’s tapping into the younger generation who can afford a lipstick but not a catwalk dress,” Felton says.

“It means you can fill your home with Burberry even if you can’t afford a £10,000 bag.”

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