ne of the hottest tickets of London Fashion Week, a front row seat at the Burberry show is usually the preserve of fashion editors, influencers and A-listers. The brand’s collections have historically been presented in grand locations across the nation’s capital, each one carefully selected for its idiosyncratic wow factor, whether it be the Tanks at the Tate Modern or the cavernous blank canvas of Olympia London. In recent years, under the creative directorship of Italian designer Riccardo Tisci, who joined the brand in March 2018, Burberry has transformed each space into a magnificent stage set for the 15-minute theatre of a catwalk show.
This season, of course, things are quite different. After months of wondering what the industry would be offering by way of London Fashion Week following the easing and reinstating of lockdown measures, with catwalk schedules announced, amended and eventually dropped by several brands, Burberry opened the spring/summer 2021 London shows via a livestream hosted on Twitch on Thursday 17 September.
It wasn’t Burberry’s first rodeo. The brand became the first luxury house to livestream its runway to a global audience back in 2010, but with no audience and without the heated politics of a fashion week seating plan, everyone got a front row seat this time. Aired in partnership with Amazon-owned livestreaming service Twitch – the virtual stomping ground of gamers – the link was available for anyone to watch from home.
In July, Burberry announced it would be cutting 500 jobs worldwide – representing around 5 per cent of its global workforce – and streamlining its head-office roles, following a 48 per cent slump in sales during the global coronavirus lockdowns. But Thursday’s extravagant show didn’t hint at any such cost-cutting.
The runway was a collaboration between Tisci and the German performance artist Anne Imhof, described by the brand as “a radical meeting of fashion and art”, that was introduced via a 30-minute discussion between face-of-the-brand Bella Hadid and musicians Erykah Badu, Rosalía and Steve Lacy. Twitch allows viewers to discuss what they’re seeing via the platform’s chat function, and hype quickly built among the 40,000-strong viewership.
The setting saw the house return to its rural roots, referencing the “purity and simplicity of the outdoors” and the power of nature which Tisci said reflected our collective yearning to “reconnect”. Accompanying show notes bizarrely referenced an imagined “love affair between a mermaid and a shark” but thankfully no such union was apparent in any of the clothing. A marine-life influence was however hinted at via fishnet detailing and oil-slick finishes.
Held in a clearing in an unidentified forest (presumably so fans didn’t flock to the location as they usually do at the first whiff of a Burberry show), the catwalk took place around a centralised performance art piece, in which models clad all in white climbed down from asylum-style beds on plinths and began to abandon social distancing to wrestle in slow motion choreography to the haunting live vocals of Eliza Douglas. With multiple perspectives, viewers were able to click on certain angles of the stream and select which parts they wanted to watch.
Tisci appears to have hit his stride with the brand, after a few collections that saw him find his footing, flitting between muted Italian glamour and bold patriotic activewear. This season, Burberry settled somewhere in between, with streetwear coding seen in hoods, loose silhouettes and sporting fabrics that formed the backbone of the menswear offering. Womenswear featured crystal fringing, tulle and chiffon detailing that injected glamour, meanwhile sharp tailoring maintained the brand’s signature aesthetic.
The colour palette, much punchier than last season’s camel-dominated catwalk, saw shots of mariner orange and indigo tones splashed with painterly allegorical prints, interspersed with monochromes and greys. Trench coats stood out as particularly versatile pieces with the usual gabardine coat reimagined with denim and leather panelling and in cut-out styles.
The accessories were focused around Burberry’s new Pocket Bag, as well as the fisherman’s hat – something Tisci seems particularly keen to push, having introduced it last season – which came in a variety of fabrications. Yet a more useful accessory for the times that curiously didn’t make an appearance was the mask – which came as a surprise just a month after Burberry became the first major luxury brand to announce it would be introducing its own version.
The house pivoted to donating gowns and surgical masks to medical workers from its retail site in West Yorkshire at the beginning of the UK lockdown in April, supported funding for the Oxford vaccine and, this month, it was revealed that Burberry had been given over £500,000 to manufacture PPE for the NHS. But though the pandemic wasn’t visible in the clothing, it was omnipresent in the apocalyptic presentation.
Whether this Twitch partnership will prove transformative for Burberry or simply represent a blip in the fashion schedule, it certainly fits with the brand’s desire to push a more sustainable image in recent times. This season’s runway show, as with the previous two, has been certified carbon neutral, with the house announcing that “any remaining emissions will be offset through Burberry’s carbon-offsetting Regeneration Fund.”
It was, as Burberry itself declared, a “digital experience for unprecedented times” and a memorable way to kick off a fashion week like no other, with some eminently wearable pieces in the mix – even if they don’t end up seeing outside of the four walls of our houses any time soon.