It’s day 16 of Russia’s war in Ukraine, so how does a luxury brand stage a fashion show? In Paris, they answered the question in different ways, and in London Burberry proffered its own response.
The brand held the show at the imposing, and austere, Methodist Central Hall, across from Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. It was standing-room only — for everyone — and while there were VIP guests — including actors Adam Driver, Rebecca Hall, Jacob Elordi and Eiza Gonzalez, and models including Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell — there was no front row.
Instead, everyone crowded into the building’s vast central hall with its towering organ pipes and, in the balconies, a 100-person choir performing live, accompanied by the London Contemporary Orchestra. Models didn’t have much of a runway: instead, they walked under the organ pipes, and through the haphazard crowd of guests. Some climbed on tables that had been set with crystal, silver and Burberry-branded plates.
It felt impromptu, democratic and sober. On the runway, the glamour was restrained, and clothes were sturdy and sensible: Riccardo Tisci made strapless ballgowns out of trenchcoats; dotted crystals and embellishments onto thick, boxy wool sweaters, and sent out swishy plaid skirts that looked as if they’d been pieced together from a closet full of kilts — no waste here!
The sobriety was, at times, extreme: Models’ hair was scraped back and severe, or hidden under odd-looking baseball cap-hairband hybrids. The men wore them, too, and they didn’t do anyone any favors. Ditto for the angular sunglasses with flip-up frames, which looked menacing.
Outerwear was no-nonsense, too: cape and swing coats came in wide wale corduroy, quilting or faux fur, while high-heeled boots were snug and disappeared under skirts like a pair of warm tights. On the men’s side, duffel coats, quilted jackets with elegant nipped waists, puffers and aviator styles all nodded to Burberry’s history as a maker of British soldiers’ uniforms.
Menswear kicked off the show, with models wearing hoodies under their tailored suits, robust jackets and rugby shirts. There was a strong whiff of the English countryside, and of all those old aristos making do in their grand, but often chilly, stately homes (presumably chillier now, what with energy prices climbing).
Tisci had hinted at the collection’s homespun feel with the show’s invitation, an embroidery hoop that read “Thank you very much,” a reference to old-fashioned English politeness, and the designer’s own gratitude for the opportunity to stage a show in front of a live audience after two hard years of COVID-19.
The designer was also grateful for the ragingly popular Supreme x Burberry collection, which has been causing sidewalk jams on shopping streets around the world. “The kids love it. America, England, I can understand, but China, Japan — they went nuts,” said Tisci, adding that the sales numbers have been huge.
For Tisci, this season was all about the power of the crowd. With this show, he wanted to “put people together and send a message of family and community. I wanted to show that people can come together to change the world, and that creativity can generate positivity.”
He didn’t mention Ukraine, but he didn’t need to.
A few hours before the show, Burberry revealed that it had upped its donations to the British Red Cross Ukraine Crisis Appeal, and that it was also giving to Save the Children and UNICEF. The company said in addition to the financial aid, it is looking at how it can leverage its global supply chain to provide food, shelter and warmth to displaced communities.
Burberry was one of the first British companies to shut down its business with Russia, shutter stores and leave itself open to losses in the region, which generates around 2 percent of sales, according to a report last week from Morgan Stanley.
The company is in step with guidance from the British Fashion Council, too, which has been taking a hard line on the issue of fashion’s trade with Russia, asking the industry to condemn the invasion and respect U.K. government sanctions that prevent product being shipped to the region.
It can’t be easy for any of these brands to walk the tightrope between commerce and compassion, but Burberry seems to be managing. It’s proving that life goes on and so does commerce, and that creativity (corny as it sounds) might actually be a force for positive change.