Friday, September 25, 2009

Bailey's Burberry

Having attended an interview with Christopher Bailey, head designer of British heritage brand Burberry, I was thoroughly impressed at how humble and down to earth he was.

After what must have been a grueling 48 hours following the new S/S 2010 collection, exhibited here in London, I felt privileged and proud to have such a man front what is an historic British brand.

This is especially important to me as any of my friends will tell you I’m a go-er for all things quintessentially British. Bailey emphasised how important the brands heritage was to him. After a loaded question from a member of the audience about the company shutting a warehouse in Wales to move Far East, he gave a carefully thought-out response about how much focus he really puts on the tradition of the brand. He spoke of his admiration for Thomas Burberry and how he continuously wishes to learn more about Burberry’s culture. This was further reiterated when he spoke of how proud he was to work for a truly British brand and how he had nurtured a strong Brit team at the new Burberry HQ at Horseferry House, itself an historic building.

Bailey discussed his progression from winning the Graduate Designer of the Year award, being scouted by Donna Karan and moving to NYC, scouted again by Tom Ford at Gucci and finally to his current spot at Burberry. In a self-depreciating manner he spoke of how he debated whether or not to take on the role as he never saw himself as the No.1 guy. He spoke only favourably of his peers and he certainly is not one who appears to burns any bridges in the fashion world. He quipped that he had just had brekkie with his pal Mario Testino that morning.

However, it is what Bailey has done of late to turn around the company that I most admire. He used what I thought was a great analogy stating, “I view Burberry like a beautiful diamond that has been trodden into the ground. At the moment only a few facets are shining but all it needs is digging up and polishing off.” He dismissed a question about the chav-association by asking, “What are chavs?” and explaining that Daniella Westbrook was not someone who was ever brainstormed in the boardroom. It appeared the issue was UK centric, and with Burberry’s UK sales at only 7%, did not seem to be one that fazed him.

When asked about his most recent campaign starring Emma Watson and shot by Mario Testino, Bailey used words such as it being ‘organic’ and finding an ‘attitude’, whether that be cosy or sexy, to explain his sources of inspiration. Again, he said he consistently vetoed for shoots to take place in the UK as much as possible. To me, it seems he is wholly aware of the power of the brand and the ability for ‘Britishness’ to be the selling point.

Bailey touched upon the importance he holds of Burberry being an ecologically, but also technologically advanced company. He discussed energy-saving techniques used in the offices, as well as charitable foundations that have been set up. He is someone who embraces new technologies and seemed genuinely excited by the ability to have a live stream of the recent catwalk to anyone watching online, who could then post comments in real time. However, Bailey said that unless there was some vast technological development, he did not see the death of the fashion show. He discussed how he loves the way a fashion show touches the senses; the look of the fabrics, the way they move, the scent of the show and its overall buzz.

In my view, Christopher Bailey has done wonders for Burberry in both a creative and business sense. He is passionate about nurturing a brand that sits strong with his British roots, and I think this entirely explains why the company has now found itself sitting neatly in the FTSE 100.

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