Contemporary style – British heritage : Burberry

Contemporary style - British heritage : Burberry

Simplicity is and has always been the mainstay of British brand Burberry– A legacy which has endured the rigours of time

Who would have ever imagined that a simple checked pattern composed from red, white and black squares would become the symbol of sophisticated fashion, with even the royalty of England subscribing to it. Of course, the moment we mention that particular pattern, the brand recall is instant – that design is the mainstay of classy, elegant apparels and accessories from Britain’s iconic fashion house – Burberry.

On the other hand, think of Burberry and the first image that crops up is of the tartan pattern, also known as the haymarket check or simply the Burberry classic check. All through its checkered history (no pun intended...), Burberry has remained steadfastly loyal to its principles of classy products dripping simplicity and style, and elegance in the face of fierce competition from brands that believe that fashion should be ostentatious. Rarely would one find a Burberry product which is glitzy and ostentatious. And, therein lies the USP of a brand which has withstood more than 150 years of the fickle world of fashion.

Much like its motto of simplicity, the beginnings of the iconic brand were simple too. Way back in 1856, a draper’s apprentice Thomas Burberry set up his own store in Basingstoke, Hampshire, England. Only 21 at the time, his desire to succeed made up for what he lacked in age and experience. By 1870, he had built a loyal customer base by focusing on attire for the outdoors.

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Ten years later, in 1880, Thomas took a giant leap forward in the field of innovative clothing – he invented Gabardine, a fabric which even today is unarguably the first word in comfortable but weather resistant clothing. The cloth was patented in 1888. What made gabardine revolutionise the world of weather-resistant clothing was the fact that the yarn was waterproofed before spinning, which led to its being strong and yet comfortable.

Riding on the success of his outdoors attire and the invention of the gabardine, Thomas opened a new store in West End in London at 30, Haymarket in 1891. This store is still very much in existence after more than a century and is the headquarters of the brand. Four years later, in 1895, the innovation bug struck again – he developed the Tielocken coat, which was the starting point of the trench coat used by British officers during the Boer War.

For all of his professional achievements, Thomas’s personal life was very low-key – in fact he shunned fame, preferring to let his work do the talking for him. Not much is known about his private life even today.

With the beginning of the 20th century came greater glory for the brand. In 1911, Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole, and Ernest Shackleton, who led the 1914 expedition to cross Antarctica, both made Burberry a household name when they were outfitted by the brand during their expeditions. In 1914, the British war office commissioned Burberry to adapt the existing officer’s coat to suit the conditions of modern warfare. The result of this adaptation was the addition of epaulettes and D’rings, and thus the legendary trench coat
was born.

With the launch of the trench coat, came the start of another era of design for Burberry – the celebrated classic checks pattern was used on the inner lining of trench coats in 1924 and is an enduring symbol of elegant, understated fashion even today.

Clothes maketh the man

Post-war, the Burberry trench coat was remodelled into an iconic garment for the middle and upper tiers of society. The tragedy was blocked off in favour of the prestige the garments held, being the dress of high-ranking officers. It now became an emblem of the gentlemen class, carrying well into the 20th century. The Burberry trench coat became a staple for the rich and famous.

The romanticisation of the trench coat burgeoned once more during the Golden Age of Hollywood. It became the attire of spies, of romantic leading men and hard-boiled detectives. Wearing a trench coat implied a sense of intrigue and world-weariness, which many desired to embody.

In a 2015 interview with the Smithsonian magazine, design history lecturer at Central Saint Martins, Jane Tynan, shared: “[The trench coat] is nostalgic…it’s a fashion classic. It’s like blue jeans, it’s just one of the items that has become part of our vocabulary of clothing because it’s a very functional item that is also stylish. It just works.”

In 1955, the brand was awarded the coveted Royal Warrant by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. This was followed by a second Royal Warrant in 1989 awarded by His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales. By 1967, the checks pattern had been trademarked and was widely used in its scarves, umbrellas and luggage.

The brand lends its exclusive appeal to men’s, women’s and children’s apparel, accessories including cufflinks, gloves, hats, shoes, eyewear, scarves, luggage, belts, umbrellas and fragrances for both men and women. Burberry products balance classic sensibility with modernity, a fact well-reflected in their eyewear, which is timeless in its appeal.

Burberry Autumn/Winter 2021 Eyewear Collection

The Burberry Autumn/Winter 2021 eyewear collection for men and women celebrates the hallmarks of the house and renews them with a powerful, modern energy.

The collection explores the narrative of modern femininity and masculinity, rewriting the story with a sense of boldness and opportunity. Paying homage to the indomitable force of Mother Nature and the widespread British craft and outdoor movements of the early 20th century, the collection nods to those who daringly ventured into nature, breaking with convention in their journey towards building a better future.

Made in Italy, the collection features frames and lenses created using bio-materials obtained from renewable sources such as cellulose and castor oil. The bio-acetate frames are biodegradable and are available for the
first time in archival Vintage check.

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