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Christopher Bailey's exit from Burberry marks a turning point in fashion 

Whether you’re a fashion fanatic or not, the designer’s departure from one of Britain’s most successful luxury labels is big news, says Laura Craik 

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By Laura Craik on

Fashion: some things you chuck, some things you keep, some things fall apart, some things you get too fat for. Or too thin for. Or too old for. All of the things. These vagaries keep the fashion industry afloat. It counts on your changing tastes, fluctuating weight and advancing years to keep you buying. 

Burberry things, I keep. I mean, they’re expensive. But more than that, they stand the test of time. Seventeen years ago, I made a considerable outlay on a pair of Burberry heels. I wasn’t earning much, but I had to have them. In Burberry’s classic house check, they’d been buried in the back of the wardrobe for aeons, but after seeing model Adwoa Aboah rocking a checked cap, I was spurred to dig them out again, an action further encouraged by the resurgence of said check at Burberry’s most recent spring/summer 2018 show, held in London in September. 

What was I just saying about Burberry standing the test of time? Alas, there are some things the brand’s super-powerful president and chief creative officer Christopher Bailey can’t militate against, and that’s moths. The fucking shoes had been savaged. 

Photo: @lauracraik

Sorry to swear, but I was devastated. As well as looking cool, they’d have been a lovely souvenir by which to remember Christopher Bailey, who hasn’t died, but is exiting the business after 17 years “to make way for a new chapter in the brand’s creative strategy”, as industry bible The Business Of Fashion recently put it. During his tenure, Burberry soared to become one of the most successful British fashion brands of recent times; some might say of all time.

Bailey’s Burberry was for everyone, even if, admittedly, not everyone could afford it. When he exits the company in March 2018, let’s hope whoever gets the gig has the same egalitarian approach

Why does Bailey’s leaving matter? If you’re not arsed about fashion (why are you reading?) then maybe it doesn’t. But if you’re someone who believes in equality – particularly social equality – then I’d argue that it does. I’ve interviewed Bailey several times, and he has always seemed to be one of the more grounded, humble and, well, sane designers in the fashion firmament. When in the early 2000s the fashion world turned on Burberry because its house check was worn by “chavs” (that once-acceptable term for football fans, soap stars and the British working class), Bailey wasn’t impressed, and not merely because it endangered share prices. "I would much rather be welcoming than exclusive and excluding people,” he told me in 2013. "I am from a working-class background. I loved as a kid having things to aspire to and be inspired by, and no one saying I couldn't have them." 

Bailey’s Burberry was for everyone, even if, admittedly, not everyone could afford it. When he exits the company in March 2018, let’s hope whoever gets the gig has the same egalitarian approach. Like most fashion lovers, I’m excited by rumours that Phoebe Philo will take over as creative director. Insiders have been gossiping for months that her exit from Céline is imminent, but what gives these rumours more credence than most is that Marco Gobbetti, Burberry’s chief executive, used to work alongside her at Celine. Behind every great designer is a great CEO – but as with any marriage, the two have to be compatible. Judging by their success with Céline, Philo and Gobbetti are.

Adwoa Aboah in a Burberry checked cap from the brand's SS18 collection

For all the money that Burberry has spent over the years – on lavish fashion shows, ingenious experiential marketing, employing Kate Moss and Cara Delevingne to front its ad campaigns, a shit-hot digital strategy that included pioneering innovations on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat – its current situation is a savvy reminder to other fashion brands that if the product itself isn’t desirable, all the marketing in the world won’t shift it in sufficient numbers for the shareholders to be happy. If Phoebe Philo does get the job, it will be because Burberry’s owners believe she can make customers fall in love again, the way she made them fall in love with a once-staid Céline. 

While I would love to see her deconstructed version of a trench coat, a part of me will lament that Burberry under Philo’s command is likely to remain forever absent from the terraces. Philo’s taste doesn’t appeal to the masses. It appeals to the one per cent who have the lifestyle, the status and the income to support it. But if your idea of hell is seeing Danniella Westbrook head-to-toe in Burberry house check, then perhaps that’s the point. Good luck to Bailey, good luck to Burberry and please, can the incoming designer make everything not just cool but moth-proof? Cheers.


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