Christopher Bailey on Burberry, gardens and fresh faces

GROUNDED: Christopher Bailey’s English garden inspired the spring collection.
GROUNDED: Christopher Bailey’s English garden inspired the spring collection.
(Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)
Fashion Critic

While some fashion brands are hunkering down to weather the economic storm, Burberry is expanding its Nova-check empire in the U.S., India, China and the Middle East. Creative director Christopher Bailey swung through the Southland last week to celebrate the reopening of the Beverly Hills and Costa Mesa stores, the first to reflect an updated retail design that places more emphasis on the high-end runway collection, called Burberry Prorsum, and accessories. We sat down for a few minutes to chat about his vision for the runway, his love of gardening and his eye for faces.

Who is the Burberry woman?

She’s disheveled elegant, loves beautifully crafted pieces that have a sense of history or heritage, but don’t feel too precious. She likes things that feel as if they have been touched by hands, instead of intimidating, scary things.


In your collections, you have elevated the trench coat to an art form with feathers, leather “leaves,” exotic skins and $10,000 price tags. Is there still a customer for that?

Everyone has a theory on this moment, but mine instinctively is that people want something with a sense of familiarity, but something that’s also special and new. No one needs a basic. But I also don’t think people want anything too radical.

Your spring runway show was so melancholy with its dip-dyed coats, crinkled drainpipe trousers and wrung-out knits. In fact, your collections are often melancholy. What is that about?

I like things that are a little more gentle, with a bit of romance and nostalgia. Energy doesn’t always have to be thumping disco and lights. Burberry is a 152-year-old brand. It’s important for me to express that. Quiet luxury is as important as something opulent and screaming.

What inspired the spring collection?

I had been spending a lot of time in my garden in Yorkshire. I love being outside, and the idea was going back to the Earth. I wanted something that felt grounded.

When you start thinking about a collection, do you start with words or pictures?

It’s not something tangible, it’s instinctive and emotive. The way I do a collection is almost like painting. I love the subtlety of color and tone. That’s what I wanted to do with those feathers in the fall collection. Everyone thinks they are exotic. They are just turkey feathers, but they are hand-painted, and they change as the light changes.

The jewelry in the last few runway collections has been quite extraordinary -- the fierce studded bracelets and geometric gem necklaces.

Thank you. When I was working on looks for shows and even for the Burberry London line, I felt jewelry was missing. That’s where it stemmed from. I felt I needed it to make the outfits complete. I don’t have a jewelry designer, just my existing team. But it’s getting so big now, I am probably going to need to bring someone in to help.

You are a gardener; what is your favorite flower?

Hydrangeas. They grow in such abundance, it’s almost more of a plant than a flower. I don’t love roses, because there is something precious about them. Hydrangeas grow like bushes, so you look at them and there are billions of flowers. . . . There is something very natural and free about them. I don’t love things too manicured.

The models in Burberry’s recent advertising campaigns and runway shows have been so influential in establishing beauty ideals. Do you have a hand in casting?

Yes. But I don’t think too much about it. I do everything with my gut.

What was it about actor Sam Riley, who is in the fall campaign, that spoke to you?

He’s classically good-looking but there’s an edge to him. And he feels clothes, not like a fluffy fashion person, but he likes clothes. When we first met, he said, “I love your coat, can I try it on?”

What was it about Agyness Deyn?

She has this vibrancy. She felt right for the moment. I don’t want to sound pretentious, but I believed in her character. She is exactly who she is. There is nothing behind it.

Burberry is a sponsor of the new Vanity Fair portraits exhibit at LACMA. Is there a particular portrait you like?

Margaret Thatcher by Helmut Newton. Whether you love her or hate her, you can’t deny the portrait expresses her character. It’s quite authoritative and evocative.