Burberry’s show brings a gender-bending, time-traveling Virginia Woolf feel to the runway

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The ruffs are on — and the gloves are off. Burberry staged its first see-now-buy-now show on Monday night after declaring its strategic intentions less than a year ago — and watching its rivals follow.

Hundreds of customers were waiting inside the Regent Street store in London at 8 p.m. — shortly after the show ended — ready to shop the 83 looks and more than 250 pieces. The collection, which was inspired in part by Virginia Woolf’s gender-bending, time-traveling novel “Orlando,” was paraded in a low-ceiling, carpeted space appointed with chintz-covered benches and a 21-piece live orchestra.


It is a pivotal moment for Burberry, the first major brand to signal a shift to instant and seasonless fashion. The decision comes as the company sets out to streamline its operations and consolidate its offerings against a tough backdrop for luxury; meanwhile, it’s also shaking up its management, welcoming a new chief executive officer next year.

Its grand fashion show has also shrunk. Burberry slashed the guest list, downsized its big tented venue from Hyde Park to the more intimate “Makers House,” a temporary space inside the former Foyles bookshop in Soho, and invited artisans ranging from a calligrapher and sculptor to a brick-maker and tassel weaver to display their skills on the ground floor.

The clothes themselves were richer than one might have expected from an insta-fashion show, with generous touches of the Elizabethan and Twenties eras, with a “Brideshead Revisited” breeze blowing through. Indeed, all the silk pajama stripes and bathrobe coats would have made Sebastian Flyte swoon.

The focus for both men and women was on separates — many of them swappable between the sexes — in the form of capes and coats with miles of military braiding, and cropped Admiral Nelson-style jackets with gold tassels.

Elizabethan flair came in the form of flared cuffs on short shearling jackets, frilly edged poets blouses for men and high, rufflike collars for men and women. Cotton jackets recalled doublets, as did some of the off-the-shoulder knits, while sweatshirts had ballooning sleeves with stud details around the elbow.

Dresses and jackets were made from tapestry intarsia, and there were chintz-style flower prints galore, with models wearing tulle skirts over printed shorts.


While there were a few trenchcoats — including a short one with leopard leg-of-mutton sleeves — the Burberry bestsellers were noticeable by their absence. The store does continue to sell its classic collection and offers a bespoke service for them.

Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative and ceo, said the run-up to this pivotal show gave the team more time to think and plan.

And while the seasonless, see-now-buy-now strategy still needs to be tested, Bailey is sanguine about the future.

“It’s very much the culture in the company to move forward, to try new things,” he said. “Nothing is forever, we are testing things, we will reflect after the show what’s worked, what hasn’t worked, how should we have done it better. We certainly don’t have all the answers.”