Into the trenches

He was a CEO at 42, and is de­scribed as the nicest guy in fash­ion. But how did Burberry’s chief cre­ative of­fi­cer and CEO put the cool back into coats?

Marie Claire (South Africa) - - LIFE STORY - CHRISTO­PHER BAI­LEY

ABRITISH IN­FANTRY band don­ning bearskin hats, a troop of gig­gling su­per­mod­els and one of Eng­land’s fun­ni­est men do­ing his best Derek Zoolan­der to the thun­der­ous ap­plause of the fash­ion elite. Wel­come to the world of Christo­pher Bai­ley. The cre­ative en­tourage he pulled into Burberry’s ‘Lon­don in Los An­ge­les’ show in April, was a clas­sic ex­am­ple of how the new head hon­cho of Burberry has brought a breath of fresh air into a brand that had lost its way.

Christo­pher asked co­me­dian James Cor­den, host of the The Late Late Show, to strut his stu at the show. ‘The whole thing was so silly, and it speaks a lot about Burberry as a com­pany,’ James told The Hol­ly­wood

Re­porter. ‘They are the best be­cause they take what they do very, very se­ri­ously, but they don’t take them­selves se­ri­ously at all. And that is a beau­ti­ful thing to be­hold.’

The ‘silli­ness’ is a sig­na­ture of the o the wall ap­proach Christo­pher has taken since he took up the reins as chief cre­ative o cer in 2009, af­ter join­ing Burberry in 2001 as design di­rec­tor. At ev­ery show, he pulls in rel­a­tively un­known mu­si­cians to per­form. Thanks to Christo­pher, rook­ies like Tom Odell, Paloma Faith and Ge­orge Bar­nett have since made it big. He’s also signed up Rosie Hunt­ing­ton White­ley, Jour­dan Dunn, Lily Don­ald­son, Cara Delev­ingne, Dou­glas Booth and Ed­die Red­mayne and sweet talked Si­enna Miller, Suki Water­house, Naomi Camp­bell and Kate Moss into fronting Burberry ad cam­paigns. But his big­gest feat was snap­ping up Romeo Beck­ham to be a Burberry clotheshorse last year. Thanks to the mini Beck­ham’s de­but, sales of the clas­sic £1 500 (about R28 000) trench coats shot up 10%.

It’s Christo­pher’s un­canny sense for the next big thing that has brought Burberry back from a brand that was known for its sig­na­ture tar­tan – but mainly in the form of cheap knocko s made in China. ‘It was mind blow­ing,’ Christo­pher said when he be­came chief cre­ative o cer. ‘I just re­mem­ber think­ing it was this in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful di­a­mond that had been kind of trod­den into the dust a lit­tle bit.’ In­ter­view de­scribed his trans­for­ma­tive e ect on the la­bel: ‘Bai­ley has made the Bri­tish lux­ury house into a brand that could con­ceiv­ably be worn by both a Wall Street fa­ther and his re­bel­lious rock’n’roll chil­dren.’

A hugely suc­cess­ful strat­egy that has paid o for the brand was Christo­pher’s in­sis­tence that Burberry move out of its Brit her­itage com­fort zone into the fast paced world of dig­i­tal. He en­cour­ages cus­tomers to buy items straight from the run­way at his shows, livestreams the events, and launched a Snapchat ac­count, where mem­bers of the Burberry fam­ily, in­clud­ing Cara, Naomi and Jour­dan, make sur­prise vis­its. Then there’s the Art of the Trench so­cial me­dia site, where users can post pic­tures of them­selves in trench coats. Speak­ing to the Daily Mail, Christo­pher said, ‘It’s all about in­volv­ing

peo­ple around the world and mak­ing them feel part of the ex­pe­ri­ence – even if they can’t be there in per­son. It’s about do­ing some­thing that makes peo­ple smile, that makes peo­ple want to en­gage, whether it’s on­line, whether it’s phys­i­cal, whether it’s at the show.’ (Christo­pher fa­mously ex­cludes fash­ion crit­ics from his shows, so they have to join the masses on­line to view them).

The brand’s ag­ship Re­gent Street store in Lon­don is another ex­am­ple of his love a air with tech­nol­ogy. It has in­ter­ac­tive mir­rors and gi­ant screens that stream Burberry’s shows. Not con­tent with sim­ply adding to the Burberry fra­grance line, Christo­pher has made a bold move into cos­met­ics. ‘It was one of the only things I felt was miss­ing when­ever we were work­ing on a show or a shoot. I found it di cult to de­scribe the nat­u­ral makeup I wanted, which wasn’t plas­tered on. The idea for this line was more nat­u­ral and re­laxed. I liked the idea of it be­ing easy and el­e­gant rather than hard work to ap­ply. It took about two years to put it all in mo­tion.’ he says.

He has put his golden touch on the clothes too. Last year, Christo­pher sent mod­els down the cat­walk wear­ing pon­chos mono­grammed with their ini­tials. Celebri­ties like Si­enna Miller and Sarah Jessica Parker snapped them up and the pon­chos, to­gether with the trenches and scarves, boosted sales be­yond all ex­pec­ta­tion. Carol Fair­weather, Burberry’s CFO, de­scribed the im­pact of the pon­chos as ‘phe­nom­e­nal’ and hinted that it was only the start: ‘There’s lots more to come from the pon­cho story.’

While it may seem that Christo­pher was pre­des­tined to work in fash­ion, he told

In­ter­view that he fell into it by mis­take. ‘I re­ally didn’t know that this kind of fash­ion even ex­isted when I was a child in York­shire. My dad is a car­pen­ter, a joiner, and I used to watch him make things. So I al­ways imag­ined that I’d do some­thing where I made things, too. I was re­ally more in­ter­ested in ar­chi­tec­ture grow­ing up be­cause I would work with my dad on houses. So fash­ion was, in a way, an ac­ci­dent. But this world opens you up to a lot of di er­ent av­enues that in­ter­ested me.’

Christo­pher was born a coun­try boy in 1971; his mother worked as a win­dow dresser in Marks & Spencer. He cred­its his art teacher for sug­gest­ing he look into ‘some­thing in fash­ion’. He moved to Lon­don to study fash­ion at the Univer­sity of West­min­ster and the Royal Col­lege of Art, and from there he was poached by Amer­i­can de­signer Donna Karan, who was so bowled over by his port­fo­lio show that she took him to New York. He went on to work for Tom Ford at Gucci be­fore join­ing Burberry dur­ing a tough time – his former long-term part­ner Geert Cloet died of brain cancer in 2005.

When Burberry came call­ing, Christo­pher was tasked with re­viv­ing the brand. Sales have in­creased four-fold since then and he’s racked up a slew of awards: two-time menswear de­signer of the year, and win­ner of the in­ter­na­tional award from the Coun­cil of Fash­ion De­sign­ers of America. His work­load as chief cre­ative and CEO (a role he took up last year) in­cludes ‘ev­ery­thing that touches the con­sumer’ vis­ually, acous­ti­cally, and phys­i­cally – which means more than 50 col­lec­tions a year ( Pror­sum, Burberry Lon­don, Burberry Brit, fra­grance, make-up, chil­drenswear), store design, ad cam­paigns and the dig­i­tal plat­forms he launched.

De­spite the ac­cla­ma­tion, Christo­pher still lives in Lon­don with his part­ner, ac­tor Si­mon Woods, who he mar­ried in 2012. ‘I live with my eyes open. I never try to force my­self to be in­spired. I’m not some­one who feels that they have to go to a for­eign coun­try or another cul­ture to look for in­spi­ra­tion.’ He cred­its his fresh ideas with the peo­ple he in­ter­acts with on var­i­ous projects. He re­cently launched Burberry Acous­tic, a dig­i­tal bank of acous­tic live sets pro­duced with bands he’s worked with over the years. He men­tors fash­ion stu­dents from the Univer­sity of Hud­ders eld and the Royal Col­lege of Art and launched the Burberry Foun­da­tion to help young peo­ple around the world re­alise their po­ten­tial through cre­ativ­ity. Per­haps that’s the se­cret to his suc­cess. ‘When you meet peo­ple, it takes you on a jour­ney,’ he says. More like a wild ride if you con­sider his im­pact on Burberry.


Christo­pher Bai­ley with part­ner Si­mon

RIGHT Woods Sarah Jessica Parker; the fa­mous tar­tan print; Romeo Beck­ham; Poppy Delev­ingne; Jour­dan Dunn

BE­LOW (From left) Jour­dan Dunn, Naomi Camp­bell, Christo­pher, Sam Smith and Cara Delev­ingne

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