The Mark Of A New Era At British Heritage House Burberry
T Singapore: The New York Times Style Magazine|April 2019
The Mark Of A New Era At British Heritage House Burberry

At Burberry, a new chapter is written as newly appointed chief creative officer Riccardo Tisci debuts his Spring/ Summer ’19 collection, “Kingdom”. This multi-dimensional collection is set to define the Italian designer’s tenure at the storied British fashion house.

Lou Stoppard

When the Italian designer Riccardo Tisci moved to London to take up his position as the chief creative officer of Burberry, he found himself temporarily without a place to stay. Househunting in the UK capital can be labourious, and with just a few months to go before his debut collection for the history-rich British house in September 2018, he “set up home” at Claridge’s in the upscale district of Mayfair. The majestic hotel is a British institution — it even sparked a documentary television show in 2012 called “Inside Claridge’s”, which documented behind-the-scenes antics of its staff. Adored by Queen Victoria, the hotel’s popularity with royalty has led some to call it “the annex to Buckingham Palace”. During his stay, Tisci recalls listening to the chatter of the hotel’s well-heeled guests (women in particular) that drew his attention. “People always say, English people don’t talk about sex, but it’s not true,” he says with a laugh. “Those women were super chic, classic, but one glass of wine later and they were coming out with the funniest, most shocking things. That energy, you only have in Britain. Britishness is really about that surprise, that eccentricity.”

Tisci has since found an apartment, but the Claridge’s stay cemented his love for the dualities and contradictions of British culture — the famous politeness mixed with a rebellious spirit, and the reserved demeanour as in the “keeping of the stiff upper lip” offset by dry wit.

Thus, his debut collection for Spring/Summer 2019, titled “Kingdom”, offered up the many facets of British heritage, referencing everything from the Victorians in their finery to city workers, and even to avant-garde outsiders. The giant 134-look collection paid tribute to the many notions of British royalty — the actual monarchy and the other iconic figures, such as the punks. “In England you will always have the Queen and the skinhead,” explains Tisci. “That is in the blood of English people, and it’s always going to be that way forever. I see that punk side in everybody here, from the waiters, to the dentists, to the people in the street.”

For his debut ad campaign, launched in January this year, Tisci also focused on dualities, in the form of the young and the old. He recruited a cast of six image-makers to interpret their own vision of Burberry today. One of them was Nick Knight, an icon of British fashion photography, whose collaborations with John Galliano and Alexander McQueen in the ’90s and early ’00s are still remembered for their visual audacity. Others were younger, up-and-coming figures, such as Colin Dodgson and Letty Schmiterlow. “It’s about working with the masters and then people who are going to be the masters of the future,” he says. The models also span generations — among them were Stella Tennant and Natalia Vodianova who appeared alongside newer faces like Fran Summers and Rianne van Rompaey. In the background of Knight’s images is a painting by the British artist Jenny Saville, who recently became the world’s most expensive living female artist. She is, like Burberry, also considered a national treasure, another great export.

Tisci is in love with the outsider’s view of England — the things that made him fall in love with the country from afar while he was growing up in Italy. When he took over the creative reins at Burberry, he recruited heroes of UK culture to help him bring to life his vision for the British house. Peter Saville, who created the artwork for the album covers of bands like Joy Division and New Order, and thus inspired the print visuals that hung as posters in thousands of British bedrooms in the late ’70s and ’80s, was tapped to help refresh the Burberry logo. In the entrance to the Burberry offices in Westminster, just north of the River Thames, are blown-up versions of emails between Saville and Tisci. “Here is the final layout,” says one from Saville, with the bold Monogram pattern attached underneath. In December 2018, Tisci invited Vivienne Westwood, a doyenne of British fashion and one of the most famous faces of the punk movement, to collaborate on a capsule collection, which saw her signature mini kilts sporting the iconic Burberry check.

The opportunity to delve deeper into the history of British design and style is one of the main reasons that attracted Tisci to the position at Burberry. He knew his choices for the brand would reach far beyond the style press. “It’s part of the culture — and that’s one of the reasons I accepted to do Burberry. It is one of the flags of the country, something that can be seen from the outside. And that is part of my concept here. I want to do Britishness,” he says. To him, Burberry is to England what Chanel is to France — everyone has a bit of it, he argues, whether a fragrance or lipstick, or scarf given on a special occasion such as a 21st birthday, or, if the budget allows, a trench coat or a bag. He is very proud that the house has the stamp of approval of the Queen, in the form of an official Royal Warrant.

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April 2019