Chief creative officer, Burberry
Look down 2010’s sales inventory… What’s been the must-have fashion item of the year? The shearling boot? The aviator jacket? A classic trench? Well, OK, summer’s printed maxi dress might also get a look in but the three at the start of this list are almost certainly in your top five. They were all unleashed on the cash-poor fashion-hungry consumer this year by one Christopher Bailey, chief creative officer of British luxury heritage brand Burberry.
His menswear collections also influenced high street sales this autumn, with quilted outerwear and military-detail shirts some of the most notable styles, while Bailey was one of the first to embrace the slim-fit trousers tucked into chunky boots look that has characterised autumn 10 for fashionable men.
Quite honestly, Bailey - who is sometimes criticised for being a one-trick-per-season pony - may have saved Christmas for retailers with autumn 10’s sleight of hand. It’s been some time since shoppers have been forced into buying a new coat, but Bailey’s trends have achieved that and those who didn’t buy into a version of his outsized-collar shearling jacket probably opted for a Burberry-inspired navy or khaki military style instead.
High street retailers should bow at this designer’s (shearling-clad) feet for reigniting sales of big-ticket items in the second half of the year, after a summer of cheap-as-chips jersey. Without him, trade would almost certainly have ground to a snow-plough pace amid the consumer-confidence knocking public sector cuts.
Bailey’s year started with the success of the iconic Burberry trench coat. It wasn’t just the original stocked in premium indies and department stores that sold though; interpretations sprung up all over the high street.
“Burberry is doing phenomenally well in all stores for us and performing over and above expectation,” confirms Anita Barr, director of womenswear and kidswear at Selfridges. “Christopher has a great understanding of his consumer and his attention to detail is what makes him a continuing success.”
But Bailey’s vision goes beyond the product; it is formed by an innate understanding of what Burberry stands for - and the ability to turn that into sales.
“Christopher Bailey is a new, 21st-century designer,” says Suzy Menkes, fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune. “He’s involved in everything from ads to online videos and blogging. This is so different from the idea of a designer who leaves management to others while he does just the creative.”
Bailey has dictated not only the biggest product trends in 2010, but has also, unlike other luxury brands, embraced the technology that is changing the shape of retailing forever.
This year he live-streamed his catwalk shows to consumers, turning the fashion industry’s long-standing two-season six-month cycle completely on its head.
In doing so, he allowed consumers to order his latest designs straight off the catwalk for delivery within seven weeks. If you can’t beat the high street copycats, the least you can do is join them on speed to market.
“Christopher is a genius, a modern day Coco Chanel who understands the delicacy with which one has to drive forward the commercial and creative needs of a business while always keeping longevity and the global reach of the brand front of mind,” says Marigay McKee, fashion and beauty director at Harrods.
“Burberry has embraced the digital market like no other luxury brand, demonstrating that innovation, luxe positioning and exclusivity can walk hand-in-hand within the online and offline arena. He creates pieces we all want to wear,” she says.
And wear them we did, as pre-tax profits at Burberry rocketed nearly 50% to £129m in the six months to September 30, while sales of outerwear and leather goods, including Burberry’s standout shearling jackets and boots, drove a 17% increase in underlying revenue.
The figures speak for themselves, but it’s McKee who puts it best. “I have a lot of [Burberry] Prorsum in my wardrobe. It’s fun, fresh and functional, the three Fs of modern fashion. The fourth F is for fabulous - that’s for Christopher, who bankrupts me every season,” she says.
Christopher Bailey was ranked 22nd in last year’s Drapers Top 100