December 2011


It's Christopher Bailey’s task to guide Burberry from its storied past to a fashion-forward future by HORACIO SILVA

  • Christopher Bailey
  • Burberry Spring 2012 Collection

Christopher Bailey, the indefatigable creative force behind Burberry, could teach politicians a thing or two. He’d just concluded a whirlwind four days of in-store appearances, with charity stops thrown in for good measure. By the time he arrived at the Los Angeles launch of Burberry Body, the brand’s new fragrance, no one would have thought twice if he’d kissed hands and shook babies instead of the other way around.

But Bailey is nothing if not a study in diplomacy. Since assuming creative control at Burberry in 2001, he has become adept at not only navigating the Byzantine corridors of the fashion industry but mastering the media tightrope of saying everything and nothing, of never explaining and never complaining. “I have a great life,” he says with just a touch of irony. “It’d be rich of me to go on about constantly having to travel the world and expand my horizons.”

Bailey knows Burberry’s manifest destiny brings with it inevitable charges of carpetbagging. So what does the reigning It Brit—the King of Trench Coats—know from California? “Well may you ask,” he says, only half joking. “Seriously, I’ve been coming here for 16 years, and I still don’t really feel like I have a handle on it. But I am really getting to know the customers. They love the special statement pieces. If we do an all-over studded jacket, for example, we always sell the most in L.A. Go figure.”

One of Bailey’s most impressive feats has been his ability to take the company from a moribund outerwear brand for neotraditionalists to a vibrant luxury label for techno-determinists. The label is considered to be the fashion industry’s digital benchmark. In fact, when Bur-berry live-streamed its most recent spring/summer runway presentation, it was viewed by close to a million users.

Not surprisingly, the designer has his eye more on the stars of California’s digital future than on dressing its red-carpet present. “It’s tempting to view things through rose-colored glasses,” he says pensively, “and the connection between Burberry and Hollywood—Bogey, Ocean’s Eleven, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, etc.—is definitely romantic. But with no offense to any screen legend past or present, I would rather dress Apple’s Jony Ive.” Spoken like a true politician.

PORTRAIT: Henry Leutwyler