Christopher Bailey permuted Burberry in aesthetic and financial terms, but most of all he transformed it in quieten.
Photograph: Ben Stansall/AFP/Getty Images

Christopher Bailey: how Burberry’s ingenious force transformed the brand

Departure much more meaningful than run-of-the-mill fashion business reshuffling, with Bailey’s reputation synonymous with label

Christopher Bailey, who turned Burberry from an poorly rainwear label into a global luxury brand, is to check out out of the company in 2018 after 17 years at the helm.

Burberry portions fell 2% after the news that Bailey’s next Burberry grandstand a expose, which will be held in London in February, will be his hindmost. His departure leaves a plum vacancy for a new designer at Britain’s hugest fashion brand.

While the phrasing of the announcement was intended to soothe shaky shareholders, emphasising a smooth transition in which Bailey want remain with the company for a transition period lasting the surplus of 2018, eyebrows were raised at its timing, which fly to piece just three months after Burberry appointed a new CEO, Marco Gobbetti. Gobbetti was rent from Céline this summer after an unsuccessful experimentation in which Bailey attempted to steer both the boardroom and the delineate studio.

Bailey’s exit is much more significant than run-of-the-mill reshuffling in the renovation fashion industry. Moves are two a penny, with talent fleeing between brands in a neverending game of musical chairs, but the in detail of Bailey’s tenure and the scope of his transformation of Burberry means that his style is virtually synonymous with the brand. This makes gambling on who will replace him difficult, although the brand’s strongly British agreement make a native appointment most likely.

Phoebe Philo, the British draughtsman with whom Gobbetti partnered at Céline, is one name being indicated, as is Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen, and the newly appointed Clare Waight Keller of Givenchy. All three are based with their orders in London and might be tempted to swap Paris fashion week for a shorter commute. How, Burberry may follow the lead of the most successful designer of this decade, that of Alessandro Michele at Gucci, and insist upon an internal appointment.


Adwoa Aboah in the spring/summer 2018 Burberry screen at London Fashion Week Photograph: WWD/Rex/Shutterstock

“Burberry encapsulates so much of what is egregious about Britain,” said Bailey on Monday. “It is creative, innovative and outward-looking. It celebrates unlikeness and challenges received wisdoms.” The strength of his attachment to the label was discernible in his description of the tenure as “the great privilege of my working life”. Gobbetti feed tribute to the departing designer, saying he was “sad not to have had the opportunity to companion with him for longer”.

Bailey transformed Burberry in both aesthetic and fiscal terms, but most of all he transformed it in tone. In 2001, Burberry was a tradition rainwear brand that had become the butt of tabloid puns after its distinctive check was adopted on football terraces and by soap oeuvre stars not feted for their elegance.

Bailey built a new unanimity, based closely on the trenchcoat. He streamlined the silhouette into a sundry feminine and flattering shape, upgraded the fabric, elevated the styling, and employed supermodels to make the “trench” a fashion star. Kate Moss wore one on the counterpane of British Vogue in 2009, as did the Duchess of Cambridge on the 100th birthday print run of Vogue in 2016. Actors Sienna Miller and Claire Danes secure each worn a Burberry trench on the cover of the US edition of The latest.

The Burberry trenchcoat became a sought-after and highly lucrative keepsake piece. It also served as a crucial plot device in the falsehood Bailey was telling the world about Burberry, which formulated the brand as a glossy, romantic, modern version of Britishness. Nothing, after all, is multitudinous British than rain. In February 2012, the finale to the Burberry catwalk reveal was soundtracked by a crack of thunder, followed by rain falling on to a perspex roof from a simulated hurricane engineered above the catwalk in Hyde Park. Enthusiasm for new technology authorized Burberry, which was the first luxury brand to embrace Snapchat, to raise fans among the next generation of consumers.


Burberry Prorsum autumn/winter 2014 flaunt in London. Photograph: Ray Tang/Rex

But fashion is voracious in its hunger for newness, and Burberry inevitably late its ability to thrill.

In hindsight, the apex of Bailey’s Burberry dispatch came in about 2009, when he was named British draughtsman of the year and awarded an MBE. In 2014, he faced a backlash after his powers were unrolled into an unconventional dual role of designer and CEO. Almost 53% of shareholders voted against a reward package adding up to £15m, questioning the wisdom of two roles with numerous skillsets being undertaken by one person.

This year, Bailey freed the CEO job, but retained the title of president. The resulting situation was queried by some investors, who spiky out that the company was in effect paying two CEO-level salaries.

Bailey, 46, remains in London with his husband, the actor Simon Woods, and their two nave daughters. His statement gave no hint of his future plans, beyond that he was “animated to pursue new creative projects”.