Christopher Bailey has become synonymous with Burberry. As he announces his plans to leave the business after 17 years, a look back at his tenure shows the influence he has had on its evolution from a heavily knocked-off outerwear brand to one of the most respected luxury fashion houses of its time.
Bailey joined Burberry in 2001 as design director, but has been at the helm as both CEO and chief creative officer since 2014, when Angela Ahrendts left to join Apple. However, speculation about his future at Burberry began when it was announced last year that former Céline chairman Marco Gobbetti was to join the brand as CEO. Bailey moved aside to be president and chief creative officer this summer.
The business has not been without its challenges over the years, but Bailey has undoubtedly been a pioneering leader, unafraid to push the boundaries and change the rules. The most obvious example is the launch of “See now, buy now” in February 2016. By offering consumers immediate access to product on the runway, Burberry opened up a new way of doing things – reinventing the traditional catwalk calendar.
Burberry has also been groundbreaking in the digital space, particularly in the early days, when luxury brands were much more resistant to the shift to online shopping. Its store on Regent Street, which opened in 2012, has digital screens, iPad payment options and interactive mirrors. The brand has also increasingly integrated technology and social media into its catwalk shows.
In terms of product, its latest collection was well received. Graeme Moran, head of fashion and features at Drapers, argued in September that Burberry was “back on form”, as it playfully resurrected its classic check for autumn 17.
Bailey has been a fundamental part of Burberry’s journey over the past few years. He has never been afraid to do what he believes, and has shown that a heritage brand can embrace change. Its agile approach has allowed it to stay at the forefront of digital innovation and shifting consumer habits.
However, while he has undoubtedly had a huge influence on the business, it has struggled operationally. A fresh pair of eyes could help to take it to the next stage of development. Bailey’s departure could turn out to be a positive move for both him and the brand.