The Burberry check as we know it today rose to fame in the early 1900s, a garment of the well suited and booted countryside types. Their clothes were made for the traveller with well-lined pockets, the explorers at the turn of the century. Even then, Burberry were clever with their marketing. They made sure their overcoats were on the right kinds of backs, most notably they provided garments for Earnest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition and outfitted the British troops in the First World War. And so, the ‘Trench Coat’ was born.
Fast forward 80-odd years and the brand was seen by many as stuffy and archaic, synonymous with the upper classes frolicking around pheasant shoots with their land rovers. Supermodel Kate Moss was brought in at the turn of the millennia, by Christopher Bailey, in an attempt to inject some vibrancy and sex-appeal into Burberry. Her Burberry Prorsum Spring 2000 campaign featured the now famed photo of Moss in a Burberry bikini.
Although these changes in brand direction provided widespread success and brand recognition, it soon began to spiral out of control. The Burberry check was hijacked by ‘chav culture’ in the form of cheap knock-offs. These replicas flooded the market; donned by ‘football hooligans’ and other negative tropes of working class culture, the brand quickly lost value and its foothold in the luxury market.
It was clear Burberry needed to act quickly to save the brands reputation. Inspired by the technology-boom from the likes of Apple, Burberry moved aggressively into the digital sphere. This was an unparalleled move for a design house at the time, and signified Burberry’s commitment to innovation. As well as this, they removed the Burberry check from all but 10% of products, taking the ‘check under cover’. Customers would now have to actively seek any memory of the infamous check, which could be hidden under lapels, in pocket linings or perhaps even totally absent from the garments.
What really re-aligned Burberry however, was its commitment to the new technologies of social media and the digital marketplace. They began live-streaming their shows and actively encouraging digital engagement with customers. ‘The Art of The Trench’ was a consumer led campaign that aimed to create a space where everyone could contribute, discuss and define what Burberry was to them, through any desired medium. This was the birth of the ‘fashion heterotopia’, a space that was without a physical site yet occupied the realms of art, music, fashion, design and community.
Encompassing this is what allowed Burberry to reclaim its stake to innovation and create a user generated space which was simultaneously inclusive yet exclusive. They solidified their dominion in opening the flagship Regents Street store, complete with interactive mirrors and ‘disruptive digital takeovers’ that forced shoppers to engage. The physical manifestation of burberry.com on the shop floor demonstrates a seamless blending of experience from digital to retail, and invariably marked Burberry as a key player, innovator and designer in the 21st century.
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