Farewell collections are always tough, the accumulated weight of a designer’s however-many-years at a label are a hard act to follow in most cases.
But Christopher Bailey pulled it off at the weekend, offering up a strong street edge, an LGBTQ+ tribute that tapped into current colour trends, and a deft use of the brand’s signature check and logo that also rode the trend wave.
And he added reissued items into the mix without wallowing in nostalgia. That’s always a risky strategy, but it worked, although there’s no denying that those shearling reissues did make many of us long for the days when Burberry collections were rather easier to decipher than of late and almost 100% instantly wearable.
But that’s not to detract from the appeal of this latest ‘February Collection’. Plenty of near-to-tears fashion buyers and journalists in the audience of Bailey’s final show made it clear that this one was another hit. And the A-list front row (Keira Knightley, Chelsea Clinton, Idris Elba, Sienna Miller, Matt Smith, Lily James, Kate Moss, Naomie Harris, Naomi Watts, Liam Gallagher, Paris Jackson) seemed to agree as they joined in the standing ovation. Can you hear those cash registers ringing?
The show brought the curtain down on Bailey’s 17-year reign at the label that has seen it transformed into a £2.8bn brand. And in line with that big-league valuation, he had some big names on the runway too with Cara Delevingne making a rare catwalk appearance, Edie Campbell also turning out, and face of the moment Adwoa Aboah opening the show.
So what were they actually wearing? Primary-coloured fuzzy furs and power puffas that reflected what two of the season’s top trends, and shell suits and hi-top trainers that teamed up with those puffas to add a street edge. That street element was more than a daytime theme too as hoodies were teamed up with gala gowns to take them into evening territory.
Pattern made an impact, from the house check mixed with roses, to spots, hearts, patchworked knits, geometrics, tie-dye, slogans, hearts, camo, doodles and so much more.
And colour was key whether for knits, outwear or the delicate dresses that are always a big feature of any Burberry collection (well, under Bailey at least, who knows whether they will be in the future?)
He had said in advance that this final collection would be an LBGTQ tribute so rainbow colours were hardly a surprise. But their presence also underlined just how important primary colour is this year and probably next year too. The New York shows and a number of recently-released lookbooks have shown a strong preference for a range of primaries including intense yellows, oranges reds, greens, blues and pinks (OK, pink’s not a rainbow shade but it’s big news for next autumn so we’ll overlook that fact).
But tying those colours into the LBGTQ theme also made the collection an appeal for tolerance and diversity. It was a fitting bow-out for someone who helped reclaim the Burberry check from the football terraces where it had been enthusiastically adopted by fans some for whom homophobia and racism were a way of life.
So, what will Bailey do now? He hasn’t given us any clues. Perhaps he’ll start his own label, Tom Ford-style. He may not have a Domenico De Sole figure like Ford had to steer him through the business side of things, but those years spent as Burberry CEO, as well as its creative chief, should be a help.
Of course, he could take a back seat for a while until the next big job comes along. But having been CEO might make a creative-only role feel like a step down. He’s saying nothing at the moment though so we’ll just have to wait and see.