Burberry Prorsum men’s show in London brought Christopher Bailey’s vision to life / PA

Burberry is like a cuckoo pushing its competitors out of the nest

Does every young British brand want to be Burberry? If they’re clever they do. Because regardless of what you think about the label’s catwalk designs – which vary wildly in both theme and quality from season to season – they’ve got the all-important fusion of business and fashion down pat.

Literally, in the gangly frame of Christopher Bailey, who is not only the label’s “chief creative” (corporate-speak for the person who designs the clothes) but also CEO (meaning the man who writes the cheques). It comes with a lot of pressure – the pressure of a business valued at £7.3bn with almost 10,000 employees. Why would a young designer want that? Because Burberry gets to throw its weight around.

Look at its place on the spring/summer 2016 leg of the London Collections men schedule. It monopolises the final day. Burberry is like a cuckoo, pushing its competing fledglings – some not even yet hatched – out of the nest so there’s only room for itself. It also throws its weight around by sinking multiple millions into the staging of its shows four times a year in London, bringing Bailey’s vision to life.

The trouble with that kind of preamble about a multi-tasking designer-cum-overlord is that the garments – supposedly the point to all this rigmarole – can occasionally seem incidental. It’s important that Burberry shows something, but really it could be anything.

Burberry has multiple clothing lines, as well as fragrance and beauty, helping to rake in annual sales of £2.5bn (Reuters)

The clutch of clothes we see on the brand’s catwalk each season are the tip of a monolithic iceberg; not because they’re just the traditional biannual collections, as opposed to all those pre-collections that are the real best-sellers, but because Burberry has multiple clothing lines, as well as fragrance and beauty, helping to rake in annual sales of £2.5bn.

The London shows consist of the “Burberry Prorsum” line, the latter Latin for “Forwards,” the idea being that this is the inventive stuff that can be tugged apart to infiltrate the other commercial stuff. This is the engine of change.

Did Burberry Prorsum change much for spring/summer 2016? After a fashion. They broadcast on Periscope for the first time, interesting to social media twitchers looking to take a flutter on the next platform to get hot. And they showed their women’s pre-collection on the catwalk for the first time, something we’ve already seen at umpteen shows this menswear season, but new for Burberry.


It’s a bit distracting – or worse. It’s actually antithetical to the act of building a strong menswear showcase for London designers, incongruous when faced with the idea that menswear is the growth area in the fashion economy. It also makes the women peppering menswear shows look decorative, as they did at Burberry. Their flimsy chiffon and chantilly tea dresses and tottering high heels stood in direct contrast to the slender masculine tailoring, where all that frilly lace was distilled into guipure or broderie anglaise shirts peeping out from the neck and wrists of sober suit jackets. Lace was also cut into fine vests with a touch of the camisole layered under sober knitwear and tailoring, giving a jolt of deviant sexual energy to clothes that were, otherwise, rather tame.

That’s the point. That’ll sell. Bailey called his show “Strait-laced,” a pun on all that frothy, foliate transparency (there was even an overcoat in clotted cream-thick corded lace), but the whole adding up to the fact that Burberry was playing by the rules, at least on the outside.

There are plenty of jokes about British business types – CEOs, like Bailey – sporting frilly knickers beneath buttoned-up suits. Bailey just unbuttoned his a bit. But not too much.