Lifestyle

Here Comes the Rain Again: Burberry

The history of Burberry is inextricably linked to the subject of rain. That begins with the famous trench coat and ends – for now – with the company’s new designer DANIEL LEE. Checks also appear in our story – as does the color blue, of course.

Credit: PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock Photo
  • Text
    Wiebke Brauer
  • Titelfoto
    Credit: PictureLux / The Hollywood Archive / Alamy Stock Photo

A fine London drizzle, dressed in elegant British attire, listening to the Sex Pistols’ “God Save the Queen” or something more modern, perhaps “Magic of Meghan” by post-punk band Dry Cleaning, on the headphones. Add to it a dash of dry humor, a cup of tea and a pinch of eccentricity, and we’ve got all the ingredients for what is commonly considered “Britishness” today. This is exactly the cultural conglomeration that Daniel Lee, the new creative director of the Burberry luxury fashion house, references in his designs. We’ll get into more detail about the thirty-seven-year-old designer later, but first we’ll talk about the brand itself. Because under the aegis of Daniel Lee, the only British fashion institution that can hold its own among the Italian and French but also the American competition is currently in the middle of “reinventing itself”, as they so beautifully say in the fashion world.

Credit: Burberry
Credit: Burberry
How it all began? With twenty-one-year-old Thomas ­Burberry, who opened his first shop in Basingstoke in southern England in 1856. Burberry was not only a gentlemen’s outfitter but also an inventor and innovator who developed a new water-repellant fabric called gabardine in 1879 and later patented his invention. Woven from a compact cotton twill, a special feature of the fabric are the tiny gaps in the more than one hundred interwoven threads per centimeter. This makes gabardine not only waterproof, lightweight and durable but also breathable. Thomas Burberry manufactured gabardine coats for the British officers serving in the Boer War in what is now South Africa from 1899 to 1902 and for Roald Amundsen on his expedition to become the first man to reach the South Pole in 1911.

The success of his coats led to Burberry becoming the official outfitter of the British Army. A revolutionary aspect of his coats, summarized in a rather prosaic way, is that, unlike the classic rubberized coats from Mackintosh, Burberry’s gabardine coats didn’t smell like an old gym shoe. The raincoats he made for use in World War I were initially called “Tielocken”, because when the belt was tied, the coat was so secure you were pretty much locked into it. The word “trench coat”, however, quickly caught on. The coat came with shoulder straps for epaulettes to indicate military rank, closable pockets, D-shaped buckles for hanging equipment, and a second layer of fabric at shoulder level for extra rain protection. Sound familiar? Exactly. The design of Burberry’s trench coat hasn’t changed in over a century. When Christopher Bailey, the former chief designer of Burberry, was asked if a ban on wearing trench coats would be the end of Burberry, he answered in the affirmative, saying that the trench coat is the center of the historic English brand.

On its way to becoming iconic – and if there is one piece of clothing that this word applies to, then it is this one – the Burberry trench coat first had to become famous. That happened at the latest in 1942 with Humphrey Bogart standing on the airfield in Casablanca, saying “Here’s looking at you, kid,” the rain beading down on his trench coat. (The actual coat worn by Bogart in the promotional pictures for the film sold for $10,000 at auction in 2005.) In 1955 Burberry was granted a Royal Warrant as a weatherproofer by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, which further contributed to the brand’s fame. In 1960 Marilyn Monroe wore a trench coat in Let’s Make Love, and a year later, both Audrey Hepburn and George Peppard wore one in the rain scene from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Alain Delon wore a Burberry in Le Samouraï in 1967, Meryl Streep in Kramer vs. Kramer in 1979, Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street in 1987 – the list goes on and on. Just one more thing, to set the record straight: Columbo’s rumpled beige raincoat is from the Spanish brand Cortefiel, Germany’s Derrick, on the other hand, wore a genuine Burberry. But this is only to prove a point: the trench coat, like no other item of clothing, combines conservatism and extravagance, nobility and punk – despite (or precisely because of) the fact that it began life as a sort of uniform.

Alain Delon wore a Burberry in Le Samouraï in 1967, Meryl Streep in Kramer vs. Kramer in 1979, Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko in Wall Street in 1987 – the list goes on and on.

Speaking of punk, that brings us to the famous Burberry check. Inspired by Scottish tartan design, the iconic check pattern was first introduced in the 1920s as a lining for the brand’s trench coats, before Jacqueline Dillemman, a buyer at Burberry’s Paris store, in 1967 had the idea of using the pattern as a stylistic element of its own and creating an umbrella cover out of it. Soon, not only umbrellas but also scarves with the check pattern were available for sale. And people loved it. Even punks started wearing Burberry in the eighties, and the Burberry trench coat became a symbol of Cool Britannia in the nineties. To Burberry’s dismay, it was also very popular among British hooligans and so-called chavs – a derogatory term for young people from the lower classes. Not infrequently, “chav check” was counterfeit, but that didn’t seem to matter. At the same time, however, the Burberry check was discovered by a new generation of American pop stars: Rihanna was seen wearing check, Beyoncé even performed in it. Once again, the context had changed over the decades – but throughout it all, the design remained the same.

Credit: Burberry
Credit: Burberry

When Christopher Bailey took over as Burberry’s head designer from Roberto Menichetti in 2000, the check print could be found on everything from bags to coats for dogs. His first official act was to limit the

→ Read the full story in rampstyle #30.

Wiebke Brauer

Wiebke Brauer

Head of text ramp & Freelance author
After graduating from high school, Wiebke Brauer studied English and German as her first major with a focus on media culture. Interested in topics of all kinds and bird-free since 2016, as she says herself. With work for Spiegel Online, auto, motor und sport, Motor Klassik, Fuel and Stern, long a blog for the young and classic car site carsablanca.de - and more than fond of ramp magazine.
rampstyle #30 Blue Skies

rampstyle #30 Blue Skies

Nach »All Summer Long« jetzt das Folgeheft »Blue Skies«. Schlüssig. Denn wenn man etwas mehr über den britischen Singer-Songwriter Chris Rea weiß, schließt sich damit ein schöner Kreis. »Blue Sky« ist eine von Reas Lieblingsmetaphern. Der blaue Himmel das Bild für einen hoffnungsvollen Blick auf das, was kommen wird.

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