Femini on London Fashion Week: A mediation of Christopher Bailey's rainbow collection for Burberry / Elspeth Taylor

AFTER REVIEWING THE FEMINIST STATEMENT OF DIOR, ELSPETH TAYLOR GOES ON TO EXPLORE A POIGNANT COLLECTION FROM LONDON FASHION WEEK 2018. WAS BURBERRY'S LGBTQ+ MESSAGE AS BOLD AS THE COLOUR?

 Abwoah Aboah in rainbow stripes and graffiti prints.

Abwoah Aboah in rainbow stripes and graffiti prints.

As we are taught in English lessons at school, beginnings and endings are key to a body of work. The same is true of Burberry’s latest London Fashion Week show which marked the end of Creative Director Christopher Bailey’s seventeen-year tenure.

In fashion, last impressions count, and many of the subsequent show reports mused on Bailey’s achievements of raising Burberry’s profile from a floundering heritage brand to a bastion of British fashion. Others conjectured that the recent diminishing profits of Burberry and the confused shifting of CEOs have detracted from Bailey’s previous design brilliance, and conceded that it was his time to go. 

The greatest talking point of this collection was the rainbow-hues which covered hats to scarves to knits to puffer jackets, culminating in the scene-stealing final look: a (faux) fur rainbow-striped cape. This colour scheme was not just a further departure from Burberry’s traditional muted colours which Bailey first provided in his Autumn/Winter 17 collection, but represented a far deeper meaning. The brand first whetted the fashion world’s appetite for the spring collection in an Instagram post, unveiling a new iteration of the classic Burberry plaid. The rainbow check, the post revealed, was Burberry’s announcement of support for three LGBTQ+ charities. The chosen charities all received donations on behalf of Burberry to coincide with Bailey’s final show. ; The Albert Kennedy Trust, a youth homelessness charity, ILGA World, a human rights charity and The Trevor Project, a crisis intervention and suicide prevention organisation, all received donations on behalf of Burberry to coincide with Bailey’s final show. 

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This detail, however, was largely passed over by the mainstream fashion press. The donation itself is key to this collection. Without it, Burberry’s spring collection is the epitome of “words not action,” which plagues recent fashion activism.

Bandana Tewari, editor-at-large of Vogue India, wrote the most elegant meditation on this collection for Business of Fashion, arguing that:

“it was a plea to hold the rainbow with dignity- and a call for companies and individuals to uphold an unwavering commitment to LGBTQ+ rights, as this marginalised community continues its chequered journey across the world.”

Tewari also brought to light the fact that Burberry’s Valentine’s Day post, an Alasdair McLellan image of two men kissing (one wearing the new Burberry Rainbow Check), “received the most likes of any social media post in the history of the brand.” This Instagram engagement demonstrates the validity of Bailey’s LGBTQ+ support, as it chimes with the ideologies of those who engage with the brand via social media.

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So far, the collection has proved itself as effective marketing for Burberry’s laudable donation, but does that alone make the collection good

Burberry’s Autumn/Winter ‘17 collection was somewhat fetishised, with journalists revelling in the renaissance of the Burberry check which was once banished from the brand’s mainline collection. This was owing to the spread of the pattern onto everything - from caps to windbreakers. This same pattern was once associated with the working-classes and the Chav subculture, then-eschewed by high fashion. But the logomania of the late 90s has recently reincarnated itself as today’s retromania and athleisure styles, ironically allowing Bailey to depart from Burberry showing the styles he had to fight so hard against at the beginning of his tenure. The garments which are now voraciously devoured by the same fashion set had seemed to deride it fifteen years ago. The same iconography of the subcultural dress were seen in the Spring ’18 collection, but this time adorned with the multi-hued flashes of the rainbow check. 

It’s not fair to call this collection tokenism, as it does seem to be based on a true desire to show solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community, despite it being economically exclusive (that faux fur rainbow cape retails just short of £4000). It is fair, however, to argue that this collection is unremarkable but for its support of LGBTQ+ charities. The streetwear sits uncomfortably within a label which once so publicly disparaged its origins, and lacks the celebration of British artisans, something which Burberry has long been a champion of. As a swansong, Bailey has orchestrated something nothing short of genius. This collection will not be remembered for its garments, save the collectability of the rainbow check, but it will be recalled for its celebration and advocation for a marginalised community. What better tribute from Bailey, the first openly gay head of a company in the FTSE 100 index on his appointment as CEO of Burberry in 2014. Perhaps this is the legacy Bailey feels is more important in today’s world.

Words by Elspeth Taylor, Fashion Editor

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