In a cavernous former Royal Mail warehouse south of the Thames in London, where luxury developments were built in anticipation of an influx of foreign money that never materialised, and after a long buildup of teasers – a new, Pop-tastic Peter Saville logo; a AED 1,430 limited drop T-shirt; Beyoncé in bespoke wear at her recent concert in Houston – Riccardo Tisci, the chief creative officer of Burberry, finally unveiled his first collection for the brand. There was not a single celebrity in the audience.
But still, the earth began to move. Actually, that’s not true (though it was fun to write). It was the ceiling, as metal slats drew back to let the sunshine in. Fashion has never been afraid to embrace a somewhat obvious metaphor. And what did the light illuminate? It was a show in three acts (five, if you count the men’s and women’s divisions), officially titled Kingdom, though it could easily have been ‘Burberry As You Like It.’ Beginning with Act I: 50 shades of the British bourgeoisie, starring the trench.
Trenches came with wide, corset-like elasticated waists, and reinvented as an A-line skirt. They came lined in a signature plaid, and they came dangling pearls. They came with silk scarves emerging from the seams like ribbons, and mixed with logo-prints and swinging pleated skirts. They came for men, along with neat structured tailoring and narrow trousers, pinstriped suits with contrast piping, and cross-body chains slinging umbrellas instead of swords across the back. The fabrics were lush, the accessories (belts! bags!) plentiful.
With that out of the way, Tisci, who in previous incarnations was known for a Gothic sensibility spiked with a grunge kick and a Kardashian-Jenner social life, proved he could do Sloane Square dressing with the best of them. Thus allowing the curtain to come up on Act II: the youthquake part of the collection. Which is to say a mashup of Shakespeare (quotes, running like armbands around sleeves, splashed Barbara Kruger-like on shirts), the Sex Pistols (photo montages stuck onto the breast pockets like mechanic’s logos; ‘Who Killed Bambi’ across a men’s leopard windbreaker), a cow print (because maybe countryside?), sweat shorts (for him) and shorter hemlines (for her).
Not to mention a new invention: the thigh-hugger. Imagine a strap attached to the bottom of men’s T-shirts, then drooping down to circle the upper leg, or sliced out of the hem of a miniskirt into two loops, its purpose unclear. So it went until Act III: evening. Back to polish. Long black dresses, cowl-backed or dangling gilt fringe, made for doing a languid waltz under the light of an enormous crystal chandelier.
Backstage after the show, Tisci said he wanted to prove that Burberry wasn’t just about “one identity,” but rather multitudes; mothers and daughters, fathers and sons. And that to do this, he wanted to be free to celebrate all the layers that percolated through his mind when he thought about England (where he had lived for eight years, starting when he was 17, and where he went to fashion school and discovered his calling). He did all that.
What he did not do: nod to the English eccentric or Bloomsbury, a former pet theme of the house, now often hackneyed in expression. That was a relief. Another thing he did not do: clothes with a gut punch of unexpected impact, the kind that make you jolt back in your seat in shock and delight. This was, despite all its breadth and references, an awfully safe beginning. The tweaking was in the details: the altered check, the blockier logo. Perhaps that’s understandable; the stakes are awfully high. All’s well that ends well, and so on. But it was hard not to long, amid all the chic and street restraint, for a tempest.
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Media: New York Times News Service, Getty and supplied
Words: Vanessa Friedman