Christopher Bailey bids farewell to Burberry in London

Christopher Bailey unveils his final collection for Burberry at London Style Week starting on Friday -- a turning point for the British luxury brand which gained a global reputation under the designer's tenure.

Burberry's star-studded show on Saturday will be one of the most high-profile events at Style Week, which runs from Friday to Tuesday. After 17 years, Bailey will say farewell with a final overhaul of the fashion house's signature beige, black and red check pattern. Drawing inspiration from the internationally recognised gay pride flag, a new rainbow check will feature heavily in London as the 46-year-old Bailey dedicates Saturday's show to gay rights campaigns and models. "There has never been a more important time to say that in our diversity lies our strength, and our creativity," said Bailey, who was the first openly gay head of a company on London's benchmark FTSE 100 index when he was named chief executive in 2014.

The appointment saw him replace Angela Ahrendts, who moved to Apple, and came a decade after Bailey joined Burberry as creative director. He has since propelled Burberry into the 21st century, incorporating new technologies such as social media into his shows. Twice named Designer of the Year at the British Style Awards, he has also combined men's and women's collections and adopted the "see now, buy now" model becoming popular among high-end fashion brands. He has also attracted some of the world's most famous muses, including Kate Moss, Emma Watson and Cara Delevingne.

An 'incredible' designer

His last catwalk for Burberry will be a testament to years spent experimenting with different colour palettes and materials, during which he reinvented Burberry's signature trench coat with a touch of lace. "Under his watch, a company formerly known as little more than an unexciting British producer of raincoats and checked scarves has exploded into the vast empire it is today," said British Vogue. The designer, who trained at London's prestigious Royal College of Art, was described as "incredible" and "super smart" by Caroline Rush, chief executive of the British Style Council. "Christopher has played a significant role in the British fashion industry, putting innovation at the heart of Burberry and ensuring that it is an exciting, relevant, forward-thinking global fashion brand," she said in a statement to AFP.

But Bailey's appointment as chief executive at age 42 raised some eyebrows because of his lack of experience running a company of such stature. He held on to the dual role for just three years, until Marco Gobbetti, former chief executive of French luxury brand Celine, was brought in to take over the business side. Bailey will formally step down from his two roles on March 31 but will work with Burberry on the transition until the end of this year. A replacement to fill the creative post held by Bailey, who previously worked for Donna Karan and Gucci, is yet to be announced. Rumours on the fashion circuit put British designer Phoebe Philo, who recently left Celine, in pole position.

Young British talent

The broader London Style Week, organised by the British Style Council, will see some 80 shows across the city as designers parade their 2018/19 autumn-winter womenswear collections. Saturday's Burberry show will undoubtedly be closely watched, while the same day sees British heavyweight Jonathan Anderson showcase his latest collection. Also artistic director of luxury leather brand Loewe, the designer will be unveiling pieces from his own J. W. Anderson label. He will also be reducing the number of shows from four to two, which J. W. Anderson said will help "reduce the traditional gap between the catwalk shows and the pieces being available for sale".

Such an approach is being followed in the wider fashion world, as brands adjust their business models to fit new consumer trends. Other highlights of the London fashion bonanza include the Sunday show of Delpozo, a Spanish brand which has transferred from New York Style Week with the promise of refined elegance. Post-modern champion Christopher Kane is one of a number of young British talents whose designs will hit the catwalk, as well as David Koma, known for his geometric pieces, and provocateur Gareth Pugh. (AFP)

Photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP

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