In a vast, empty bus depot in West London, to the sound of Eighties pop star Jimmy Somerville (not quite drowned out by anti-fur protestors) Burberry said farewell to Christopher Bailey after 17 years.
Creative director since 2004, and CEO for the last five years, the designer from Yorkshire in northern England, re-scaled for the 21st century a company that originally made clothes for the British military – hence the trench coat that was having yet another turn with its signature check pattern.
The show was not so much a tear jerking event, but rather one filled with love and laughter and a mighty pile up of celebrities. The group of famous faces was haloed by Chelsea Clinton, with Paris Jackson (daughter of superstar Michael), Keira Knightley, director Steve McQueen with daughter Alex, Sienna Miller, Naomi Watts and so many more you could not spot because the vast area was so dimly lit by an art installation. It consisted of old school lamps swinging around, while the only other light illuminated the collection.
By the end of the show, the multi coloured sportswear with a vivid scarlet, yellow, green and orange palette beamed out to compete with a richly embroidered coat or a shirt so loud in its mix of Burberry plaid with Versace-esque gilding that it looked like a crazy knock-off from a market stall. Yet many of these gaudy shout-outs were actually reviving the Eighties creations under license from the company’s wilderness years.
“Joy and reminiscence,” said Christopher Bailey, as I fought past Naomi Campbell to ask him how he felt about the show. It was certainly joyful, with so many crazy plays on colour – from the scribbled pattern on a blush pink hooded sweatshirt, worn with rainbow sparkles on a white shirt; through multicoloured ceramic flowers on a mesh dress, and, finally, as a dramatic ending, model Cara Delevingne in a rainbow coalition of colours on a velvet cloak, where the traditional beige Burberry checks peaked out from inside.
It was all a mad mix, heavy on cool guys loping down in a rainbow coalition, wearing outfits with patterns of kids’ boardgames and riffs on Burberry’s leaping horse. It was all good fun and a hyper-modern, street wise-mix. But something was missing. Surely the fun and the cool should have been anchored by what Burberry has stood for since its beginning – its connection with the armed forces? Beige gabardine raincoats may be less fun than a bold jacket in scarlet, orange, yellow, grass green, bright blue and purple – but they hold the weight of heritage.