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Quintessentially Burberry

Despite a somewhat chequered history, the Burberry brand of patriotic styling is flying high in the fashion world




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THERE MAY BE be proud clans in the Highlands who might argue the case, but in the world of fashion there is no tartan as famous, or as instantly recognisable, as the iconic black, red, white and trench beige of Burberry.

And if you’re wondering how it came to be known as “trench beige”, it’s all down to the ingenuity of founder, Thomas Burberry. The company began in 1856 when 21-year-old Thomas Burberry, a former draper’s apprentice, opened his own store in Basingstoke, Hampshire, focusing on the development of outdoors attire. Ever the entrepreneur, in 1880, Burberry invented gabardine, a breathable fabric that’s also hard-wearing and water-resistant – functional qualities that made it perfect for outerwear. So much so, that in 1914, Burberry was commissioned by the War Office to adapt its officer’s coat to suit the conditions of warfare, resulting in the trench coat – and the colour, of course, that became known in Burberry world as “trench beige.”


It was after the war, when thoughts were turning away from more practical considerations, that the iconic Burberry check, which had been created in the Twenties, was first used as a lining in all its trench coats. By the Sixties, the Burberry check was appearing on a plethora of products, from handbags and umbrellas to scarves and luggage. During the Seventies, however, the brand experienced some rather less savoury associations, as it gained popularity among the British football casual cult – with the unfortunate link to hooliganism. A further low point came with Daniellagate – when EastEnders actress Daniella Westbrook was famously photographed wearing top-to-toe Burberry, with her baby in a matching outfit and a coordinating pushchair to boot. It heralded a time when the iconic Burberry brand was in danger of being consigned to the wish lists of chavs, a sign of the nouveau riche rather than an emblem of aristocratic good taste and quintessential British reserve.


Redemption came in the form of two leading ladies: new CEO, Rose Marie Bravo, who joined the company in 1997, and model Kate Moss, who was central to Burberry’s most successful ad campaigns. Bravo initiated a radical reform of the British classic brand, recruiting the former Gucci designer Christopher Bailey in 2001. Burberry – now perceived as cool, contemporary and classic – was back in business. The final stamp of approval in the public eye came via the likes of Madonna, Kate Moss and David Beckham, who have all been spotted sporting the iconic brand, while more recent fans include Katie Holmes, who wore a Burberry smock while heavily pregnant, and Suri Cruise, who is already a fan of their cute little dresses.

Burberry’s children’s collection is also a great success story. Launched over a decade ago, it was seen as a natural extension to the Burberry men’s and women’s ready-to-wear collections, and references the signature highlights of the brand: trench coats, the trademark check, the British heritage, and fabric innovation. In March 2008, Burberry opened its first dedicated Burberry childrenswear store in Hong Kong, followed by two US stores in New York and California, and stores in Dubai and Istanbul. This spring sees the opening of the first stand-alone childrenswear store in the UK in Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill. Under the creative direction of Christopher Bailey, the store reflects the new Burberry design concept, utilising intrinsically British materials, with fumed oak floors, trench beige walls, dark chrome fittings and white high-gloss lacquer furniture. The store will showcase a full range of the Burberry Childrenswear collection for newborns to 14 years, including gift sets, as well as accessories and footwear, including the all-essential Burberry Wellington boot.

The Burberry Children collection has always reflected the strongest elements of the adult lines, in the form of perfectly scaled-down classic Burberry raincoats. In the early days, the traditional check dominated the collections, much as it did for adults, but slowly, as the brand developed new lines for men and women with the Thomas Burberry and Prorsum collections, the children’s designs reflected these changes too. The result was updated styles and variations of the classic check in more flamboyant colourways, such as lime, lilac and turquoise – a bold and playful departure from the
subtle browns and beige that had previously reigned.

The 21st century heralded a brave new world as a trendier, more quirky and fashion-forward Burberry came to the fore. The Autumn/Winter children’s collection in 2005 showcased a bold, oversized black-and-white check tweed on pinafore dresses, cape coats and bucket hats (as featured in a Junior fashion shoot, left, and on the previous page). Other recent collections played to Burberry’s experimental attitude towards fabrics, with white shiny leather and quilted trench coats and silver lamé ruffled dresses for girls and striped blazers and argyle sweaters in vivid colour combinations for boys, alongside the more classic kilts, chino pants and striped shirts. This season, Spring/Summer ’09 celebrates the brand’s unique heritage with classic trench coats and light pack-away macs, alongside softer silhouettes and detailing with floral prints, slim-leg pants and flashes of yellow, fuchsia and acid green to add that springtime zing.
Today, the Burberry brand is standing proud and strong, with a distinctive and well-respected fashion label that has well and truly withstood the test of time  n

The new Burberry Childrenswear boutique opens this month at 199 Westbourne Grove, Notting Hill, London W11 2SB.


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