Christopher Bailey brings back the brand’s iconic check and presents a positive idea of Britishness
The Burberry check has had a rocky journey. The red, black, white and tan tartan was first used in the 1920s, and was considered a powerful symbol of British heritage for most of the 20th century. In the 90s and early 00s, however, it was adopted by and soon became synonymous with ‘chav’ culture – a pejorative concept which represented the media’s vilification of young working-class men and women more than it did actual hooligans. Still, the negative connotations stuck with the brand’s trademark pattern. Since taking the helm in 2004, Christopher Bailey has succeeded in separating the brand from these negative overtones, using the check sparingly, or reworking it completely.
Burberry September 2017
Yesterday though, at Burberry’s ‘September 2017’ show at London Fashion Week, Bailey brought the check back unapologetically. Rather than using it subtly in the linings of coats and jackets, the check covered the label’s signature but modernised designs – trenches, Harringtons and raincoats. Most striking of all was the resurrection of what was once the ultimate symbol of so-called ‘chav culture’: the Burberry cap. Once the emblem of a vilified subsection of society, the cap has now returned as a must-have piece.
Elsewhere in the collection, Bailey et al succeeded in delivering British wardrobe staples with a contemporary twist: knitted sweater vests that were tight-fitting and gently cropped; slightly oversized jumpers and cardis that slopped over the shoulder; and tracksuit bottoms worn with loafers. It felt young and British, much like the guests in attendance, who included grime artist Stormzy, presenter Maya Jama, radio presenter Julie Adenuga and It-boys from the world of streetwear such as Blondey McCoy, Gully Guy Leo and Jordan Vickors.
The show coincided with the launch of Burberry’s new exhibition, Here We Are, which was similarly staged at Old Sessions House on Clerkenwell Green and is open to the public from Monday. Curated by Burberry’s Christopher Bailey, Claire de Rouen’s Lucy Kumara Moore, and Another Man contributor Alasdair McLellan, the exhibition features social portraiture by McLellan himself, Gosha Rubchinskiy and other photographers. All in all, both the show and exhibition provided a welcome moment of light relief from the malaise of post-Brexit Britain – in Bailey’s hands, Britishness is restored a long-lost optimism, and it makes for enjoyable viewing.
Here We Are is at Old Sessions House, 22 Clerkenwell Green London, EC1, from September 18 – October 1.