On Saturday, Burberry’s chief creative officer, Christopher Bailey, is bringing the curtain down on his 17-year tenure at the British brand – but not before delivering a statement-making iteration of its famous check. The new rainbow check “is dedicated to – and in support of – some of the best and brightest organisations supporting LGBTQ+ youth around the world,” says Bailey, who has incorporated the pattern extensively into his final collection for the house, set to be unveiled in full at London fashion week this weekend. During his two decades at the top (which saw him take on the role of CEO for four years between 2013 and 2017 after Angela Ahrendts left for Apple), the designer has seen the rise, the fall – Daniella Westbrook, circa 2002 – and the subsequent rise – and rise – in popularity of the heritage signature. Here is a rundown of the Burberry signature in its hey and nay days.
Which came first, the trench or the check? It happens that Burberry was making gabardine trenchcoats for decades before it started to line them with plaid check in the late 1910s. Registered as a trademark in 1921, the check – a beige background with black, white and red intersecting stripes – quickly became the most recognisable characteristic of the brand. The royal family were fans, granting it multiple royal warrants and cementing the label’s status as a heritage British house.
When Bailey came on board in 2001, the brand went through an image overhaul. Supermodels Kate Moss and Liberty Ross were enlisted to star in campaigns photographed by Mario Testino (a relationship that was halted this year, in the wake of sexual harrassment allegations against Testino), which were candidly shot and covered in the traditional check. The check’s fashion credentials climb.
Things took a turn for the worse in 2002 when EastEnders actor Daniella Westbrook was papped with her daughter both wearing head-to-toe Burberry check. The fashion pack dumped their checks in droves as the check – and knock-off imitations – became synonymous with antisocial street culture and the controversial epithet “chav”.
Despite the check being worn by Beyoncé in her video with Jay-Z for ’03 Bonnie & Clyde in 2002, the company started to give it a less prominent spot. In the house’s ensemble campaign shots of the bright young things of the time – Lily Donaldson, Agyness Deyn and Emma Watson – it took a back seat, featuring on an umbrella, a scarf and lining, in understated black-and-white or navy versions. The catwalk collections followed suit.
Fast-forward to 2017 and the unstoppable force that is streetwear tinged with 90s and 00s nostalgia. Burberry collaborated with Gosha Rubchinskiy – one of the most influential figures in fashion – on a capsule collection that heralded the high-fashion return of the original check for his spring/summer 2018 show. Bailey added to this by drenching his penultimate fashion show with the check, putting it on caps, coats, gilets, dresses and bags in every colour.
The check takes centre-stage as Bailey prepares to deliver his final collection this weekend, tapping into the renewed appreciation for the house’s signature alongside the socially conscious mood of the moment. Of his decision to incorporate the official red, orange, yellow, green, purple and blue rainbow hues in support of the LGBTQ+ community, Bailey says: “There has never been a more important time to say that in our diversity lies our strength and our creativity.”