Gown & Country
Burberry’s pre-Fall 2012 collection has a surprise. Evening gowns! It’s an elegant surprise but a peek into the brand’s DNA would lead you to expect a collection that moves in the direction of the great outdoors and edgy fashion not the languid corridors of a time past.
The Burberry story has many firsts and all of them have been quoted often. Thomas Burberry created the first waterproof material for coats to protect officers in the trenches during World War 1. He also created custom designed hardworking outdoors wear to accompany George Mallory to the Everest and Roald Amundsen to the South Pole in the 1900’s. The name became synonymous with the trench coat and after World War 2 it became a style statement flaunted by every espionage agent and detective in fiction and the movies. Burberry’s history and heritage is well-known. What is equally well-known in fashion circles is its infusion of modernity and edginess at the hands of Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s Chief Creative Officer, the man behind the House’s reinvention as the epitome of modern British style Bailey has continuously reworked Burberry into a new trope of Britishness. Shades of the country weekend and the outdoors have informed his collections, the trench has become the uniform of New Cool, and London’s high street edginess has inspired his vision.
Collaborations with the music world and connections with the digiterati have helped seal the brand’s image as one on the verge of the next big thing. The Art of the Trench is the brand’s online fashion democracy – a republic of likeminded people who put up pictures of themselves wearing their Burberry trench coats.
Live streaming of runway shows, holograms in Beijing, and now the world’s largest Burberry store at Regent’s Street have taken the brand continuously into the future.
“It is a reflection,” says Christopher Bailey, “of how we approach everything at Burberry – revealing the different layers of the brand’s heritage within a modern context, and forever celebrating design and expert craftsmanship.”
Frills, flounces and fussiness have not been Bailey’s style.
Under the luxury label Burberry Prorsum (meaning ‘Forward’ in Latin) there has been an expression of runway and fashion collections that have been versatile and very contemporary. Leather jackets with spikes and the trench reinterpreted in snakeskin were on show for Spring 2011. African prints and bold lines showed up in Resort 2011.
But now Bailey goes a little more nostalgic. While his pre-Fall collection has a chic feel with a touches of leather and velvet, beautifully cut skirts in twill and tweed and contrasting belts that play on his running theme of Modern Brit, the evening gowns, are much more feminine and elegant. Perhaps too prettily elegant.
There have been several sightings of Burberry’s evening gowns on the bodies of beautiful Hollywood and Bollywood stars. Keira Knightley wore a burgundy crepe gown with a low back to the British launch of her film A Dangerous Method. Jennifer Aniston wore her white silk gown with panache in an event to honor veteran actor Shirley McLaine; singer Adele wore hers in black and vintage lace and Bollywood beauty Jacqueline Fernandez glowed in a moss green crepe drape at Monaco.
The gowns look back in time. There is a reference to the 1930s, the time between the wars when the country weekend and dressing for dinner had still not gone out of fashion. It is also a time when the gown reinvented itself at the hands of Elisa Schiaparelli and Madeline Vionnet and was freed to fall and drape itself with the curves of the body.
Bailey’s gowns have some of that movement and drape accentuated by materials like crepe and silk. The cuts are slender and straight. Bows and little puff sleeves make the collection almost girlish. Plunging backs bring them back to fashion territory but the feel remains more debutante than sophisticate. Model Rosie Huntington Whitely made this look glamorous but on the whole the look runs to posh and pretty.
Colours are autumnal – moss green, teal blue and burgundy dominate. You feel you are on the on the sets of Ian McEwan’s Atonement or the television series Dawnton Abbey or in the pages of Evelyn Waugh’s Decline and Fall.
Burberry Prorsum AW12 continues the theme with bows and velvet skirts though the silhouette is more shaped. This is a far cry from Bailey’s leather bondage luxe biker look of 2011. Or 2010’s Harness dress.
Though a peek into Spring 2013 tells us that the star will once again be a trench coat in shining, bright, lame hues. For 2013 Bailey has moved from the ’30s to the ’80s, from nostalgia to disco. Till then, enjoy the gowns.
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