Life in the trenches is pretty intense in 2012 — if it's Burberry's trenches.
Burberry's new five-story store in Chicago, its signature check crisscrossing the exterior, has earned instant, if unofficial, landmark status. Before that, Burberry completed its largest store in the world, the 44,000-square-foot London flagship on Regent Street, as well as new global headquarters in London, the Americas headquarters in New York and the Tokyo headquarters.
Beyond metal and mortar, Burberry's "Art of the Trench" campaign, in which tastemakers across the globe are photographed wearing its signature coat their way, has drawn millions of page views at artofthetrench.com.
Forging new territory for a luxury brand, particularly a 156-year-old one, Burberry introduced Burberry Bespoke online, which allows shoppers, with a high credit card limit and a few clicks of the mouse, to custom-order a trench coat with lining and other details of their choice. Or they can select one of the spring runway's electric colors, a century apart from the coat's khaki roots in World War I.
At the forefront of it all is designer Christopher Bailey, whose innovations, together with CEO Angela Ahrendts', have nearly tripled revenues in the past six years, excited fashion fans and critics, and earned him a more expansive title as chief creative officer.
For the grand opening of the Chicago store, on the previous store's site at 633 N. Michigan Ave., Bailey orchestrated a raucous live performance fronted by the Libertines' Carl Barat. The opening act was models emulating the sound of rain by snapping fingers in front of a giant digital screen, where Big Ben's hands ran amok while The Clash's "London Calling" pulsed through the crowd.
Hours before, Yorkshire-born Bailey, 41, discussed how he moves a classic brand forward. Following is an edited version of our conversation.
Q: Did the idea of this building's check exterior give you pause before the renovation?
A: It didn't. Chicago is a very modern city. The architecture is spectacular. I wanted to do something beautiful and magnificent for the city, because I feel so privileged to have this location on such an iconic street.
Q: Why Chicago for this bold flagship?
A: Chicago resonates so much with who we are, in terms of the weather. It's kind of the perfect city for us. It's like the U.K. We live in our outerwear, you guys live in your outerwear. People in Chicago are incredibly warm and welcoming and that's very much the ethos of our brand.
Q: You did some exclusives for Chicago (including an $80,000 cq white crocodile cropped jacket).
A: We developed a capsule collection for Chicago; I did it all in black and white, all outerwear-based. We've only ever done that once before, when we opened Regent Street, our world flagship in London. What we also have here that we don't have elsewhere is a Burberry Beauty area here, a full area of Burberry watches and Burberry Bespoke, the only physical version of Burberry Bespoke outside of Regent Street.
Q: How do you walk the line between serving traditionalists and new customers?
A: Understanding the DNA of the brand and making sure we never get staid. For example, doing the iconic Burberry check with LED lights on this big facade is a way of reinventing it. We're always taking our heritage and building on top of it rather than starting from zero.
Q: Many fashion brands are embracing the digital world now. Was Burberry an early adopter?
A: Yes, I sometimes describe us as an old young company, 156 years old but a very young team. Digital is a platform, no different than a building or a newspaper, it's just another platform. Most of us use technology for the way we live. It would almost be counterintuitive if it didn't become at the core of everything we do, whether at a party, where technology is a big part of it, or in the store, where every sales associate has an iPad to link into our other platforms.
Q: Are you trying to appeal to a younger customer?
A: I see the company through the lens of the trench coat. It talks to a young girl or guy, someone who loves fashion and is interested in pop culture, and then it also talks to the classic lady or gentleman. It extends beyond urban cities to country and suburban towns. We've got this very diverse customer base because we look at everything through this trench coat. It's not about one person. And that's what I love about the brand. The trench coat, you can wear with an evening dress or jeans or a tailored jacket. It's the chameleon.
Q: How has the "Art of the Trench" evolved?
A: "Art of the Trench" is a social media platform we set up a couple years ago. In Chicago, we went round with a photographer and shot the good people of Chicago in different locations that meant something to them or that were important. We've used those photos across all platforms but we've also put it back in the local community, which we've never done before. It's on bus shelters all the way up Michigan Avenue. When you interact with people it's this relationship you're building.
Q: Lots of luxury brands have launched cosmetic lines but not all of them have lasted. How and why are you making yours a big priority?
A: We just bought back the license. It's something I personally am going to put a huge amount of time and energy into. It's something I believe is true to our roots. When you talk about the trench coat in the sense of protecting, I think that's also what cosmetics and makeup do too. We talk about effortless elegance that is Burberry and that's what our beauty stands for too.
Q: You've been hailed as a visionary. Do you think you've reinvented Burberry?
A: I feel I've respected it. Thomas Burberry was our founder and I hope that I have understood his vision and his open mind. He believed in globality, in exploration, in innovation. He sponsored a plane called the Burberry. He dressed lots of explorers, whether in jungles or mountains. He designed for the military. But he also loved fashion and dressed the society of the day. When you have good design it crosses all boundaries, geography, territory, climate. He got there sooner than we did.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun