It’s a new dawn at Burberry, and Riccardo Tisci let everyone know it when a vast expanse of black fabric was whisked off the roof of the show venue in south London, letting in the sun at the start of the designer’s debut show early Monday evening.
This debut was hyped over Tisci’s Instagram all summer long with news of product drops, an upcoming collection with Vivienne Westwood, new branding and a TB monogram. There were countdown clocks in store windows and a retail transformation at the Regent Street flagship, with themed rooms and “Sisyphus Reclined,” a three-floor scaffold immersive and interactive art installation by British artist Graham Hudson.
Yet this show was unexpectedly discreet.
There were no VIPs, just members of Tisci’s big Pugliese family — little kids were running around the venue afterward — and some of the designer’s friends including Ben Gorham, Marina Abramovic, Peter Saville, Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott.
With its plush carpets and cocooning feel, the venue was quiet — a haven in the storm of London Fashion Week. Guests found their seats — handsome rosewood armchairs for some, cushioned benches for others — in the dimly lit room, which was filled with partitions made of rich woods, leaded glass or gleaming steel. It felt like a five-star hotel.
The only sound of note came from the soundtrack, which Massive Attack’s Robert Del Naja created for the show, and even that was a fair few decibels lower than the usual ear-blasting Burberry fare.
Tisci has the likes of Kanye West, Beyoncé and Noomi Rapace on speed dial. Asked why he didn’t stack his front row with any glittering types, he said: “The [guests] are all people I know and they’re very good friends, so for this first season it was very important for me to really work with the people in the business: the fashion journalists, buyers, friends and family. Celebrities can sometimes give the wrong message and I don’t really like using them as windows.”
Even this collection, with its 134 models, started on a low-key note. The designer, known for his dark romance at Givenchy, and among the first to fuse luxury and streetwear, let some of that go, with a vast, democratic collection that took in luxury, street, men’s and women’s wear — all in a soft palette of camel and rosy neutrals.
Testament to his maturity as a designer, his respect for the name above the door — and to his role as creative chief officer at a public company with a market cap of 8.9 billion pounds — Tisci didn’t push too hard in any one direction. It was clear he was trying to offer something for everyone.
“I’m trying to build, over time, a wardrobe for a mother and a daughter and a father and a son. We have so many stores. Why just offer one identity when you can really design for every age, for every culture and every different lifestyle?” he said, echoing the brand’s new focus on head-to-toe looks and keeping the merchandise fresh and flowing onto the shop floor.
“It’s Britain that has that very strong mix. You literally have the Queen and then you have the street, which is fantastic.”
The collection took in a sensual, old world luxury — a soft leather pencil skirt, a lineup of pleated print skirts, proper pussy bow blouses and jackets threaded and tied with silk scarves — and more street looks, too, lace slips with long deconstructed sleeves and short, halter-top trench dresses worn with white socks and mary jane flats. Bambi — a Tisci signature — came on totes and tops and sneakers while snippets of phrases from Shakespeare — along with punk, pop and historical references — appeared on T-shirts and jackets and coats.
He put a cool spin on the trench, slimming it down, cinching it with a thick leather corset belt for the opening look, or piercing its edges with little gold hoops or studs. Elsewhere, he added little built-in, button-front panels or a patchwork of silk scarves.
Overall, his women’s offer outshone the men’s, with the classic and tailored portions looking sleeker than the off-duty clothes, which took in a deer spotted shirt that wondered aloud “Why Did They Kill Bambi” and a lineup of roomy suits, slashed T-shirts and animal-patterned trousers.
Perhaps the strength of Tisci’s more formalwear is an indication that street, by Tisci’s own admission, has gone too far. Interestingly, Tisci referred to the casual and street-tinged sections of the show as the “young parts.”
It was the young ones who were shopping on Monday after the show. The ground floor of the Regent Street flagship was filled with twenty and thirtysomethings checking out the black mesh bomber jacket, the Thomas Burberry monogram T-shirt and the Burberry Regis low-top trainers with the brand’s signature check.
While Regent Street was the only physical place where pieces — including a lightweight trench — from the debut collection were on sale, they were also being sold via Instagram and WeChat.
In Tisci’s zeal to show his range and maturity as a designer, and to embrace the scope of Burberry’s global business, the show was ambitious — probably too ambitious. But it’s clear where Tisci is going and that he and Burberry’s chief executive officer Marco Gobbetti, whom he refers to as a father figure and whose office is right next to his own, are confident in their vision.