Burberry SS19: Hints of the Old, and Plenty of New Direction from Riccardo Tisci

Burberry had to make itself over. The last few years during Christopher Bailey’s tenure brought slumping sales, the brand intentionally avoided its famous check print for years, and earlier in 2018, word got out the company had burned over $37 million worth of unsold merchandise, all in an effort to counteract counterfeiting. New blood and an upgraded, more modern approach were needed.

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So, as part of that upheaval, Bailey left after two decades, and Riccardo Tisci – famed for reworking Givenchy from its Breakfast at Tiffany’s reputation into a luxury streetwear powerhouse – assumed the reins. And, while Tisci’s designs – with the behind-the-scenes work heavily promoted on Instagram, all to build up to the Spring/Summer 2019 presentation – serve as the transformation’s face, more shake-ups occurred behind the scenes. Striving to put the British fashion house on par with French stalwarts like Louis Vuitton and Hermes, the brand had Marco Gobbetti take over as CEO.

As well, CFO Julie Brown announced a new marketing approach – one blending luxury with streetwear drops, all under the veil of exclusiveness to attract a younger consumer who might’ve been put off by Bailey’s dandy-ish, classically British designs. It’s not far from how Alessandro Michele essentially reinvented Gucci, and as one step leading up to Burberry’s London Fashion Week show, they released a limited-edition capsule collection, The B Series. Making it seem even more exclusive, the drop happened suddenly, with styles available only for a short time through Instagram, WeChat, and the brand’s brick-and-mortar store in London.

In the U.S., we’ve come to expect this sort of thing from a brand like Supreme, and as of 2018, it’s also how younger consumers relate to fashion: Immediate, without much of a wait after the presentation, and with the assumption the collection won’t be around for long. As well, press coverage has shifted from the venerated and established – think Vogue or WWD – to the street publications, like Stupid Dope, Hypebeast, and High Snobiety, covering every major sneaker drop. In response, Highsnobiety did a takeover in the days surrounding the LFW presentation.

However, Tisci’s direction, at least based on his debut collection, doesn’t disregard the past. Rather, his strong streetwear background and innovations at Givenchy pick up where Bailey left off – if you can recall, that involved graffiti-influenced prints, bolder, more saturated hues over the past few years, and a reintroduction of the brand’s classic print, which, for his last collection, appeared all over caps and shirts. The result took off amongst streetwear buffs, and essentially garnered some interest from a crowd who ordinarily would’ve dismissed Burberry as too dated and formal.

Called “Kingdom,” Tisci’s SS19 presentation opts for two-sided symbolism: Deconstructing and stitching together the brand’s storied history, and the designer’s own personal journey in fashion, which originally started in London. And, if the setting was any indication, Tisci didn’t want this to be a celebratory event and A-lister gathering space. Gone were the stars lining the front rows – a staple during Bailey’s presentations. Instead, Tisci’s creative associates – among them Ben Gorham, Peter Saville, Mert Alas, and Marcus Piggott – were on the guestlist, while model Kendall Jenner served as the only hint he had previously dressed Kim Kardashian and Kanye West. Music, meanwhile, came from Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja.

Bailey kept the last few men’s and women’s presentations together, and at least for SS19, Tisci opted for the same, beginning with a literal soft start: Womenswear, often fit for the office, in neutral brown- or beige-based hues. Pencil and pleated skirts played off pussy-bow blouses, bright scarf accents, and wider-cut jackets, with all feeling fairly timeless.

Tisci unveiled a few familiar touches – a recurring Bambi theme, which goes back to his 12 years with Givenchy – and veered into ‘90s-leaning women’s streetwear, with chunky Mary Janes, zippered leather miniskirts, and graphic tees loudly announcing the shift. While Tisci, from the looks of it, might get the catwalk to finally take women’s streetwear seriously, the women’s presentation’s biggest reveal was the number of variations Tisci did on the brand’s classic trench coat.

Those even moderately familiar with Burberry associate it with two things: The tan-based, red- and white-striped check print, and the gabardine trench coats, introduced in 1912 for soldiers during the war. These initial designs featured shoulder straps, D-rings, and a handful of other practical features. Tisci’s, meanwhile, thins the material out, slims down the silhouette, belts it across the middle with a thick corset, or embellishes it with ‘90s hip-hop-like gold studs or chained edges. To sum it up, it’s a practical foundation made for the younger consumer wanting flashy outerwear.

Menswear, meanwhile, progressed in a similar fashion. Representing the brand’s British history, according to an interview Tisci did with The Guardian, suiting started everything off. And, unless you’re expecting something colorful or heavily patterned, a la Dolce & Gabbana, Tisci didn’t significantly push boundaries: Essentially, slimmer cuts in neutral or tonal combinations, with pinstripes and chain-like accessories being the most adventurous addition.

But, Tisci’s time at Givenchy earned him a reputation in streetwear circles – he not only pays attention to its pulse, but further sets the tone and showcases it on the runway before anyone else. Thus, after sticking with tradition, Tisci let loose, so to speak, with a series of right-on-trend streetwear silhouettes clearly inspired by both skate culture and the current workwear obsession: boxy, camp collar-accented silhouettes, wider-cut pants, patch embellishments, and lots of layering.

If you were to compare this oeuvre to Bailey’s tenure, it’s a far cry from the lace blouses we saw back in 2015, but it’s not a complete rejection of Burberry’s origins. Rather, reused brown, white, and reddish-orange hues hint at the brand’s seminal print, as if Tisci borrowed and repurposed the hues for an audience that doesn’t want to be clad in head-to-toe monograms. Yet, the allusions weren’t all that distant. Striped versions of the same combination popped up as paneling, lining, and accents on jackets and blouses through both women’s and men’s sections.

Perhaps as the most telling aspect, Tisci’s appointment comes with a new logo – white, orange, and beige spelling out “TB,” designed by famed graphic designer Peter Saville. As you know, Saville’s New Order-era album covers have adorned both Raf Simons and Supreme styles, and his work here reflects the same pathway: Classic and recognizable but reintroduced to a whole new generation of consumers.