Christopher Bailey has done a fine job at Burberry. With a company legacy of gabardine rainwear and perhaps the most recognisable tartan check in the world, it was not a simple task to take Burberry from its fashion status as a ‘gilded pretender’ and to push it into the respected arena of financially successful ‘superbrands’ such as Dior Homme and Alexander McQueen. Having all the celebrity and historical credentials one could wish for, comparable, but not necessarily equal, to rival brand Louis Vuitton, designing for such a grand name couldn’t possibly pose any risks for such a talented designer. However, he has not shied away from risk-taking as far as his work is concerned and his men’s collections, though they frequently draw on Burberry’s heritage, have broken new ground and sometimes, delightfully, draw on a wider English heritage.
Such is the case with the above outfit, one of my all time favourite ensembles from the runways. Though there is an undeniable conservatism – the classic shape of jacket, the straight leg trousers and the Oxford shoes – this outfit has such vibrancy, such a kick, that it draws second and third looks. The leather two-button jacket, with a texture and colour of forest ivy, produces one of the ‘effects’ for which I have great admiration; this is the effect of taking an ordinary and commonplace item and, by altering one facet of it, completely extricating that ordinary and commonplace theme. Another example may be the adding of a thin, egg yolk patent leather belt to a pair of black trousers instantly removing the dullness and the humdrum; like throwing a wedge of lime into the G&T. A plain jacket, even an ordinary wool or cotton ivy green jacket, would not have such a special effect; it’s the leather ‘twist’ that really lifts the item.
Individually, the items are of high quality and of an interesting texture, but it’s the agreeable interplay that really makes the whole thing stand out. The tangerine jumper would not have such an appeal were it not for the sober colours at its borders; and such pairing applies, vice versa – it’s the strength of that central tone that prevents the dark grey trousers and shirt from looking too miserable. The blue suede gloves and the plum shoes are inspired touches; both muted colours, not attempting to compete with the powerful knitwear, but still adding to the palette. The bamboo handled Burberry check umbrella, as well as the corsage, adds that welcome touch of whimsy.
Bailey once said that he refrains from thinking about things in terms of taste; good or bad, but rather, he prefers to think of items as ‘sophisticated or ugly’. The joy is then in combining the two together. Although as a look, I would prefer complete sophistication, which Bailey rightly regards as ‘too easy’, the combination is inescapably modern; like a 1960s office block built next to a Victorian mansion. It’s a challenge but its theory is grounded in the realities of our topsy turvy world: that ugliness in individuality can be tempered, and even enhanced, by a union with irreproachable sophistication and beauty.