Actually Christopher Bailey was more succinct than usual in his summation of the new Burberry collection. “The Mitford sisters, glam rock, military, wellies. Just a patchwork of things that I love,” he said backstage after the London fashion week show.
The point is that the Burberry story right now is much bigger than the clothes on the catwalk. Bailey and Burberry represent the forces of modernisation in an industry whose traditional business model, of catwalks showcasing clothes six months before they appear in stores, is on the brink of being declared unfit for purpose now that the fashion consumer can see the collections instantaneously on the internet. This Burberry collection will be the last to operate on a time delay. From September, the brand’s clothes will be shown on the catwalk at the same time as going in stores.
“When we started livestreaming our shows in 2009, that invited people into a world that had been conceived in an industry format. The catwalk is not just an industry event any more,” said Bailey. “The audience for fashion shows has changed completely, and we need to adapt what we do to take that into account.”
Not everyone agrees. While Bailey was talking to reporters in his Hyde Park marquee, François-Henri Pinault, chief executive of the Kering group, was on his way to his front row seat at the Christopher Kane show, a label in which Kering owns a majority stake. Pinault has recently spoken out against the see-now-buy-now model, telling Bloomberg it “negates the dream” of luxury. In a bullish statement, backed by strong sales figures for current Kering star Gucci, Pinault defended the traditional model, saying the six-month wait creates desire.
While Tom Ford announced that he, such as Burberry, would postpone showing his autumn 2016 collection until September in order to fall in step with store delivery, he cancelled his slot on this season’s calendar. Burberry stayed on this week’s schedule, but this collection inevitably felt like a glamorous holding position rather than a key seasonal statement.
The standout pieces were military outerwear but with an indie slant: the kind of greatcoats and parkas you might find in an army surplus store, not on parade. The vintage store mood was accentuated by unorthodox layering – a sequin tracksuit top under a chequered wool overcoat, for instance – and an air of cool-kid quirkiness. This season’s trench coat, for instance, comes in green snakeskin.
Kane is less interested in giving the customer what she wants now than in thinking about what she might want next. “Most things are so normal now,” the designer said after the show. “Why not do something completely different?”
First on to the catwalk came a coat in camel leather, pleated to look like corrugated cardboard, and stitched together with faux silver staples. Kane had been watching a documentary about hoarders, hence “I was thinking of, like, a reclusive ex-pianist”, he shrugged.
Moreover, on Kane’s catwalk, ultra-sophisticated ideas are tangled up with deliberately awkward, off-key ones. A mink coat worn with a plastic rainhood, for instance. A luxury handbag fastened with a seatbelt strap. A gauche, boxy cardigan with a virtuoso Lesage appliqué of trailing vines. Kane may not be on board with the modernising see-now-buy-now movement, but his are the ideas moving fashion forward.