BEVERLY HILLS — Burberry’s new flagship on Rodeo Drive here is its latest step in Christopher Bailey’s drive to marry the high tech with heritage.
The four-floor, 22,000-square-foot store is a monument to Britishness at the corner of Rodeo Drive and Dayton Way. One of the talking points — and there are many, from the Corinthian marble used in all Burberry stores around the world to the handcrafted lamps and bespoke chevron timber floor — is the Burberry Retail Theatre, the company’s parlance for the 10 digital screens and 130 speakers that enable the store to become a retail movie theater of sorts for any video or audio content it chooses to beam from the mother ship in London. On the top floor, in the VIP salon (or Burberry Penthouse), screens can display live streams from anywhere.
But in an exclusive interview, the brand’s chief creative officer and chief executive officer stressed that it isn’t about only “gee-whiz” technology: He sees the flagship as a manifestation of his ambitions for the brand as Burberry strives for ever-greater personalization — of its products and its service. His obsession is one of physical and digital seamlessness. Translated to the retail experience, that means associates with iPads who not only can do mobile checkout and sell customers items available exclusively online but also call up personal customer profiles in any store around the world.
Dubbed “Burberry 1-2-1,” Bailey explains it as “really about having a more intimate relationship with your customer so that you have longevity. If you are shopping on Rodeo or on 57th or in Beijing or London, we try to have one database so we are looking after you the right way and start to learn what you like. It’s not dissimilar to the concept we were talking about between the physical world and the digital world. We don’t want countries or cities to be a barrier to having a personal relationship to a customer. We have something called BPC — Burberry Private Clients — where associates build up this relationship with a customer, and they share this information and say, ‘She’s going to be in Beijing next week and she’s a size this and loves this, and she loves this bag collection. Maybe show her X, Y or Z. She’s staying at this hotel — maybe we want to send her something.’ ”
Bailey describes his Burberry as one of opposites. “I would say, first, it’s Britishness, heritage. But we are really a brand of contradictions, so we’re heritage but we are also fashion. I love traditional service, but I love digital innovation. We are a big company, but we like to make sure what we do is intimate.”
As far as the L-word, he said, “Luxury, I think, is a word that gets bandied about too often. Luxury, for me, is all the things I talked about. When you use your heritage and history as a foundation, and quality and craftsmanship are at the heart of what you do, you are by definition classed as a luxury company. But it needs to be more: luxury of time, a seamlessness, all those things define luxury. I just assume we are a luxury brand because of all these elements. The other elements are the tangibles, and luxury is an umbrella.”
What does Bailey think a store’s number-one objective should be? “To have a personal service, and personal service is showing the full brand and collection we have. But personalization is also very important. For example, we have the monogramming on our most iconic cashmere scarves. We have a custom-made capsule collection just for this store. It’s making sure all the product, service, online — all these things become a personal experience.”
But isn’t the objective to sell them and continue to keep the company’s revenues in the billions of dollars? “Of course, we want to sell. But we also want people to come in and feel. It’s about building authentic relationships, rather than just making a sale. It’s about saying, maybe today you want to come in and browse, maybe you listen to a piece of music on Burberry acoustic that you’ve heard or see a video of James Bay — who we just worked with in the last women’s show — and then maybe you’ll try on a trenchcoat and maybe you’ll buy the trenchcoat.
“But it’s the whole journey I’m interested in. It’s not just about sell, sell, sell the trenchcoat. Hopefully, you’ll be interested that it was made in England, the cotton gabardine was woven in our factory in England, and the Scottish cashmere was woven and made in Scotland and hand-thistled in Scotland, and you’ll start to understand the soul of the company and product and the relationship you have with it is broader than just the product. Where maybe the sales associate started talking about how a fabric is woven and then you go online and see it being woven. It’s making sure the end-to-end storytelling is consistent throughout.”
With regard to his love of music, which the company supports through various marketing platforms, he said, “It’s emotional, no? I think that’s what I mean when I try to talk about what luxury is. It’s about feeling something, and I try to avoid the word ‘luxury’ again because I feel it’s — I assume we are under the umbrella. You don’t have a store on Rodeo Drive if you are not classed as a luxury brand. But it’s so much deeper than the word. It’s about making people feel and understand what you are trying to say, and that can be through architecture, product and music [or] through an online experience.
“It’s becoming much, much broader than just the product. You feel things. The nice thing is when I walked in here I have a very happy feeling. It’s some serious real estate, and it’s a privilege to be here. My team and I put a lot of soul into this store, and the most important thing was [that] we wanted to feel a part of this city, which is why we put 40 floor-to-ceiling windows. We wanted to get the city inside to see it and to have this opportunity to look at that view.”
“That view” was from the store’s massive L-shaped terrace, where Bailey was squinting into the sun at the Hollywood sign.
“I think everybody in the world knows Rodeo Drive,” he said of the new location. “The name is iconic, the city is iconic, so it is very different than any other luxury street in the world.”
He broke into a boyish grin. “Just the name of the street has prestige. Bond Street in London also has it. But Rodeo is so linked to films and Hollywood that there is a magical side to it that everybody recognizes it not just as a luxury street but for the glamour and the films you associate it with.”
Before and after receiving the Walk of Style award from Mario Testino on Wednesday afternoon, Bailey made time to meet with Silicon Valley tech companies (he wouldn’t say who, but let’s just assume there were some tweets, filtered photos and streaming videos involved — not to mention Apple, where his predecessor as ceo, Angela Ahrendts, now works) and movie moguls in Hollywood. Last week, he was in London revealing Burberry’s first-half results, which showed that currency fluctuations caused first-half profits to fall 6.9 percent on a 6.7 percent rise in revenues. During the results presentation, Bailey indicated the importance of the U.S. market to the brand, saying the company aimed for “the continued elevation of our business in the U.S., where the recent openings of our Rodeo Drive and Post Street flagships in L.A. and San Francisco are great examples of our vision for the brand.”
Last week, he reiterated his other key goals for Burberry, which included greater personalization at both retail and at wholesale clients that carry the brand; expanding the fast-growing accessories offering and growing in underdeveloped markets.
It’s quite an ambitious agenda for a man who took over the ceo reins only six months ago. But Bailey seems to be enjoying it.
“I feel very lucky because I’m able to work in all the worlds that I love,” he said during the WWD interview. “Architecture I’m passionate about, and we can build stores. Music I’m very passionate about, and we can work with musicians. Film I’m very passionate about, and I can work with the most extraordinary filmmakers. Technology I’m incredibly passionate about, and I can work with the leaders there. We are able to play with all these different worlds, and they are all embedded into the company. But next week, I’m at our factory in England with all the beautiful Victorian looms. It kind of goes from high tech to the most beautiful handcrafted materials and products.
“I call it my fast-fast-slow-slow philosophy. I love the speed of technology, but I love how slow the craftsmanship of weaving a piece of cloth is, and I love it when those worlds collide because it’s what I’m interested in.”
As if on cue, he summed up, saying, “It’s like a store. It’s not dissimilar. Some of the things in the store, the craftwork that goes into it is unbelievable. But then, behind all the carvings and the lamps that were all handmade and the handrails, there’s an incredibly wired building that we can stream and bring out into the world.”