Smart fashion brands know that the surest way to a consumer’s purse strings is by tugging at the heart strings. Burberry, one of the smartest brands in modern fashion, knows that there are few feelings as evocative to a British audience as that of watching the rain stream down a window from the safety of a snug interior.
Catwalk shows are a show of strength, and there can be no more impressive display of power than taking control of the weather – as Burberry appeared to do in Hyde Park on Monday.
When the Burberry catwalk show finale began to a crack of thunder, and a simulated rainstorm sent water streaming down all sides of the vast transparent marquee while the audience watched from within, it was a fitting end to a show in which Burberry re-established an emotional warmth lacking in some recent seasons.
Burberry is the most important name at London fashion week, and Christopher Bailey – twice British Designer of the Year – generally acknowledged as the nicest man in UK fashion. But something has been missing from its catwalk shows.
The rigour needed to produce a show which can be livestreamed globally seemed to lead to collections with a chilly tone: a very skinny silhouette sharpened further by gold buttons and militaristic epaulettes.
By contrast, this collection – which will be available online immediately and in shops in July – celebrated British foibles and eccentricities, in the animal-motif knitwear and eclectic mix of town and country fabrics.
“A show needs to be emotive,” said Bailey backstage. “I wanted to take an affectionate look at British cliches and make them into something that feels interesting and elegant. And I love the British weather, so it was fun to celebrate that.”
Rain is a logical starting point for Burberry, which has trenchcoats at its heart, but other fashion designers seek inspiration in unlikely places. Christopher Kane began researching his catwalk show by looking at purple silk moire fabric used to line coffins. “It’s sort of disgusting, but brilliant,” he said.
Erdem Moralioglu, designer of the Erdem label, began his season “by looking at latex from a bondage store”.
The outlook for London fashion week is sunny, with attendance, kudos and orders all on the up. And yet the many talented designers bunched together on the week’s busiest day were almost united in presenting a gothic-tinged vision of next autumn, dominated by purple and red trimmed with black leather and black lace.
This is not the gloomy news it sounds. Success in fashion depends on creating a strong brand which customers in a busy marketplace will recognise and understand.
Neither Kane, Erdem, Antonio Berardi or Peter Pilotto – all of whom subscribed to a darker vision of the elegant London wardrobe than last year – yet have the muscle to scale the global fashion heights alone, and each benefits greatly from combining their pulling power under the umbrella brand that is London itself. When London has a distinctive look, the strength of the brand boosts visibility for the city’s designers.
Kane described the strong red he used in the collection as “blood red”. He said: “I wanted to do something harder this time around. The girl in my head is walking to a nightclub. I was listening to the soundtrack of the Al Pacino film Cruising, where he’s visiting all these seedy, backstreet clubs.
“I wanted to get that edge in there, make it a bit seedy. So I used floral brocade, but toughened up with black leather.”
The clothes were beautiful and elegant. If you didn’t know it was blood red, the shade Kane describes looks very much like cherry red; the coffin-lining purple simply a blazing, regal lilac.
Despite the nightclub references, the clothes were for the most part designed to be wearable by the grownup women who can afford his creations. Aside from a few dresses with keyhole cutouts at the ribs – undeniably a hard silhouette to pull off – most of the looks were long-sleeved, with hemlines finishing at the knee.
After last season’s short, pastel, girlish collection this was a radical turnaround for Kane, but his is a customer with a real love of fashion. A new look every six months is not a hard sell to her.