The celebrities and fashion editors sitting in the front row were busy brandishing their iPhones and uploading pictures of every look to Instagram, but Tuesday’s Burberry show was clearly inspired by printed words, vintage book covers and the work of author and travel writer Bruce Chatwin.
Models, on the final day of the London Collections: Men, walked down a hand-painted catwalk wearing cobalt, copper, olive green, navy, plum and ochre, with key pieces including velvet blazers, denim jackets, waxy macs and tailored trousers cropped at the ankle. White T-shirts poked out underneath coats, emblazoned with designs based on books with evocative names, such as Forts & Castles of the British Isles. Accessories were multicoloured trainers and bucket-shaped hats, a cue from Chatwin’s in-field headgear.
Along with the obligatory satchels and tote bags, models carried leather book covers scrawled with words and phrases related to travel, Britishness and creativity: “adventure”, “British rain”, “The Writer”. The designs will also be available as cases for iPads.
Backstage, after celebrity guests including Tinie Tempah and Jourdan Dunn offered their congratulations, Burberry’s chief creative and chief executive officer, Christopher Bailey, said the collection’s starting point was a battered, pale pink first edition of a Chatwin book. Chatwin’s work includes the late-1970s travelogue In Patagonia, and Bailey was interested “in his nomadic lifestyle, the idea of his easy spirit,” he said, “although in reality he was a complex character.”
The cursive script used across the collection was inspired by earlier vintage book jackets, from the 1940s: “The labels and graphics were much more playful then,” said Bailey, whipping out his iPhone to show a photograph of some of the books he had used for inspiration, including English Fashion, English Children and British Universities.
Though travel is a perennial fascination for Bailey, for Burberry all roads lead back to Britain; a recent show in Shanghai, for example, saw models dancing with umbrellas, one of which carried model Cara Delevingne into the ether like Mary Poppins. This retro, elegant idea of Britishness is a core component of the company’s continuing success in China and will be key to Bailey’s ambition to strike it big in Japan.
Bailey added the role of chief executive to his existing job of chief creative officer last month, following Angela Ahrendts’ departure for Apple. His status as one of the most powerful people in global fashion was confirmed by a pay deal worth up to £8.1m per year.
As befits the driving force of a global mega-brand, Bailey’s backstage vision was clear and unambiguous, a sharp contrast to the other most-anticipated moment on Tuesday’s schedule, the first solo show from 27-year-old rising star Craig Green.
In the past, Green has showed his collections as part of talent-fostering initiatives Fashion East and Topshop MAN. His radical designs have charmed critics while being deemed bizarre by much of the mainstream press, featuring models wearing huge facial sculptures fashioned from reclaimed plywood.
Models in Tuesday’s show marched down the catwalk wearing one colour head to toe, with hues ranging from white to cobalt blue to black. Garments were designed to be “flat pack”, created from distinct pieces tied together with dozens of bows. There were fluid, martial arts-style jackets and trousers, plus padded segments tied together at the sides, inspired by the clothes worn in medieval fencing.
Billowing shirts were layered one on top of another, while a few tight tops with cut out sections, paired with fisherman-type trousers, added a hint of 1990s raver to an otherwise loose silhouette. The wooden structures that fascinate Green played a part with a handful of models – one wearing each of the collection’s key colours – taking the role of bannermen, wearing a huge frame from which fabric billowed like a flag.
Backstage, overwhelmed by the rapturous reception, Green told himself off for “getting a bit deep” when talking about the clothes, explaining that there was a feeling of “silent protest” in the show. Looks were styled to feel “finished a bit raw”, the fabric ties affixed loosely to create an “exploded” version of pieces that might be neater and more wearable in the real world. It was ambiguous and fascinating, the perfect presage to the glitz and pomp of Burberry. All in all, it spoke of a London menswear scene in rude health, more than capable of fulfilling those who like their fashion radical and the outré, as well as satisfying the fashion establishment.
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