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Is Burberry ready for a new creative direction?

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Italian fashion designer Riccardo Tisci will send his latest creations to the London catwalks in a few weeks. But will this be one of her last collections for Burberry Group Plc?

The British luxury brand is exploring a new creative path and reaching out to designers who could potentially replace Tisci, according to Women’s Wear Daily. The candidates include former Bottega Veneta star Daniel Lee, WWD reported. Burberry said it does not comment on speculation.

Tisci made the most of a tough hand at Burberry, but Jonathan Akeroyd, who became chief executive in March, may want his own pick in the crucial role of creative director. Appointed by Akeroyd’s predecessor, Marco Gobbetti, Tisci has been chief designer since 2018 and has had a respectable tenure as creative helm.

I was long skeptical of Burberry’s decision in 2018 to bring in Tisci. It fell somewhere between the pared-back minimalism of former Céline designer Phoebe Philo and the bold maximalism of Gucci’s Alessandro Michele. While it helped stabilize Burberry, it didn’t create the kind of buzz, or skyrocketing sales growth, that Kering SA achieved with Michele’s grandma chic, characterized by bold prints, logos and trendy knitwear.

That said, Tisci had a tougher job at Burberry than Michele at Gucci, the late Virgil Abloh at Louis Vuitton and Maria Grazia Chiuri at Christian Dior. These brands were already at the top of the retail pyramid, with Burberry operating at the premium level rather than the ultra-luxury level. And elevating a brand, while simultaneously reinvigorating it, is a tall order.

Nonetheless, Tisci has made some strides, such as expanding Burberry’s streetwear range, bringing back the trademark red, black, beige and white plaid, and introducing a new “TB” monogram. He also made the brand more visible by dressing celebrities such as Madonna and Beyoncé. He did all of this while navigating the challenges of the pandemic. A new designer would be able to build on this base.

Daniel Lee, who previously worked under Philo at Celine, reinvigorated Bottega Veneta, taking the brand, best known for its woven leather accessories, from classic to avant-garde. It introduced a new, more streamlined aesthetic. After the garishness of Gucci, it changed the general direction of fashion once again. New handbag shapes such as the Cassette and the soft Pouch have been well received. The Entrelac mules have also been emulated on the main street.

These clean designs would pair well with trench coats from Burberry, although Lee would also be wise to work in the Burberry check. If he could repeat the success he has had with Bottega’s line of handbags, it would boost Burberry’s efforts in accessories – the luxury industry’s profit engine. That Lee is British also helps. Akeroyd should aim to further enhance the heritage of the brand. There’s room for a British luxury powerhouse to rival its French and Italian rivals.

Lee abruptly parted ways with Kering last November, but Akeroyd is no stranger to creative talent. At Versace de Capri Holdings Ltd., he worked closely with Donatella Versace.

Luxury has been in tears for two years, but there are questions about whether this growth is sustainable, given the impact of lockdowns in China and inflation in the United States. Meanwhile, Prada SpA, a key competitor to Burberry, is becoming increasingly popular with younger shoppers.

Whether it is Tisci or another designer who presents future Burberry collections, they will do so in a more difficult context.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Editorial Board or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Andrea Felsted is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering consumer goods and the retail industry. Previously, she was a reporter for the Financial Times.

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