The luxury brand with a chequered past, Burberry's shaken off its chav

image to become the fashionistas' favourite once more
Profitable fashion. It's a difficult balancing act, one only a handful of labels have been able to achieve: how to
keep your brand exclusive and cutting-edge, but at the same time shift enough of your product to keep the
accountants happy.
Make your brand too famous and it will inevitably fall into the wrong hands, ensuring your high-end
customers - always in search of the Next Big Thing - desert you in droves.
Become too niche, and while the girls who worship Vogue might hanker after you, the rich wives of Russian
oligarchs will turn up their newly chiselled noses.
In the late Nineties, Burberry , once a staid store selling raincoats, decided it wanted a piece of the
burgeoning mania for designer labels. It upped its advertising budget and used its trademark check not just
as a discreet lining but plastered over absolutely everything.
3 E nlarge
Chavtastic: Daniella Westbrook in Burberry overload

Unfortunately, Burberry became too ubiquitous for comfort, and soon the distinctive house check was
adopted as a badge of honour for the newly emerging chav generation.
The day that former soap star Daniella Westbrook and her daughter stepped out head to toe in Burberry
sounded the death knell for the company's credibility. It had to change, and it had to change fast.
News released last week confirms it has done just that. Burberry enjoyed a 25 per cent jump in profits to
£196 million on the back of a 17 per cent rise in revenue to £995million for the year ending in March. It is
now one of the top five luxury goods brands in the world.
It's interesting that the Burberry renaissance has been driven by two canny American businesswomen: Rose
Marie Bravo, who left the most prestigious job in fashion - as president of Saks - to head up Burberry in
1998; and Angela Ahrendts, who took over two years ago having cut her teeth at Donna Karan.
What the women have in common is that they are both anglophiles who fell in love with the history of the
Founded in 1856, Burberry dressed not only Sir Ernest Shackleton for his exploration of Antarctica, but also
provided Army officers with the raincoats they wore in the trenches of World War I (hence the term 'trench
coat') and clothed debutantes in floor-length duchesse satin.
The straight-talking Bravo recognised that this unique slice of Englishness could be successfully marketed
around the world. In 2001, she hired the down-to-earth Yorkshireman Christopher Bailey to reinvent the label
and put the chavs firmly off the scent.
Bailey grew up in Halifax, the son of a carpenter and a Marks & Spencer windowdresser. His love of fashion
came from his grandmothers, who were both seamstresses.
After graduating from the Royal College of Art in 1994, he worked for, among others, Donna Karan and
Gucci. One of the first things Bailey did at Burberry was to spend months poring over the archives, before
reinventing the classics, fashioning a military jacket out of gold sequins, say, or buttery soft leather.
With the younger label Burberry Prorsum (Latin for 'forwards'), he has come up with numerous trends: the
balloon sleeve, the cocoonshaped overcoat, the liberal use of metallics and, of course, the trench coat in
ever more luxurious fabrics.
His collection for winter 2008 includes myriad exquisite variations, covering the simple trench with tiered
feathers and leather leaves; the £3,000 chevron coat has even made it onto the back of Sarah Jessica
Parker in the new Sex And movie.

And while Bailey, talking about his label's chavdom, is keen not to sound elitist - 'I'm proud we had such a
democratic appeal' - he has been instrumental in returning to the brand its coolness, while at the same time
sending top-end sales soaring.
He was at the forefront of the money-spinning mania for vertiginous shoes (Burberry sold more than 300,000
pairs at more than £300 a pop last year), and for the hugely expensive handbag, fashioned from exotic skins.
This spring's Warrior bag, which, despite its £13,000 price tag, sold in its hundreds, added nicely to the bank
balance, while its success had a knockon effect: the dizzying height of the Burberry price range enabled the
brand to increase the average price of its bags by more than 25 per cent, the resultant buzz helping to push
Burberry accessories to make up 31 per cent of total sales.
The ad campaigns have been instrumental in the brand's success, too. Shot in black and white by Mario
Testino, they look more classically beautiful than ever before, use models who might actually be members of
the British aristocracy - such as Stella Tennant, granddaughter of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire -
or merely look as if they are, such as new Brit stars Agyness Deyn and Georgia Frost.
It is an inspired conceit. But that is exactly what it is: a conceit. The English countryside, as depicted by
Testino, no longer really exists.

Secret to success: Selling in their hundreds The 'Warrior' handbag, costing £13,000, helped boost Burberry's record £995 million profits

Nobody in the countryside actually wears this stuff, or carries the new Burberry Beaton bag (only 8 per cent
of Burberry sales are in the UK). But it is the illusion that we do that has helped propel the latest sales
figures, and enabled Ahrendts to open 15 new stores in developing markets.
Burberry continues to trade on its 'Englishness', of course it does. Bailey cites as his inspiration the warmly-
coated figures depicted by the artist L. S. Lowry, and says proudly, 'We have two factories in Yorkshire - in
Rotherham, which we saved from closure, and Castleford, where we make the iconic rainwear. We still use
fabrics from the traditional cloth mills. I love those solid English cloths.'
But you wonder how long it will be before Burberry - which closed down its factory in South Wales last year,
at the cost of 300 jobs - is forced, or tempted, to move all its production to China.
The big challenge for the next few years will not be whether a D-list celebrity has got hold of your clothes, but
whether consumers will stomach the poorly-paid worker churning out ever more expensive 'things' that are
supposed to remind us of a more gentle, bygone age, all in pursuit of that all-important bottom line.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful