In the passing of an era, Burberry president and chief creative officer Christopher Bailey has announced he will leave the British luxury icon next year.
“It has been the great privilege of my working life to be at Burberry, working alongside and learning from such an extraordinary group of people over the last 17 years,” Bailey said. “Burberry encapsulates so much of what is great about Britain. As an organization, it is creative, innovative and outward-looking. It celebrates diversity and challenges received wisdoms. It is over 160 years old, but it has a young spirit.”
Bailey, who joined the company in 2001, will remain in his current position until March 31. After joining the company as design director and overseeing the collection, he was promoted to CCO/CEO in 2014 when CEO Angela Ahrendts left to join Apple, but ceded the CEO role to Marco Gobbetti last year. Prior to Burberry, Bailey worked at Donna Karan and Gucci.
“Burberry has undergone an incredible transformation since 2001 and Christopher has been instrumental to the company’s success in that period,” Gobbetti said. “While I am sad not to have the opportunity to partner with him for longer, the legacy he leaves and the exceptional talent we have at Burberry give me enormous confidence in our future. We have a clear vision for the next chapter to accelerate the growth and success of the Burberry brand and I am excited about the opportunity ahead for our teams, our partners and our shareholders.”
Ellie Pithers, fashion features editor of British Vogue said that when “perennially boyish Christopher Bailey arrived at Burberry in 2001 as a 29-year-old, glitz and bling were on the way out. Fashion was in the mood for something raw and undone, and with perfect timing, Bailey took Burberry—then seen as something of an ageing relic, a company that made miniature bottles of whiskey to go with your trench coat—back outdoors and exposed it to the elements.”
Pithers concludes, “It seems timely for Bailey to bow out now, on a high, having simultaneously reinfused his autumn/winter 2017 collection with the grit of the street and the nobility of the Queen,” Pithers added. Bailey will design the Spring/Summer 2018 collection and leave in December, allowing time for the transition.
Burberry’s former CEO Rose Marie Bravo, an American, hired Bailey 17 years ago, after being brought on board herself “to save the British stalwart — best known for its classic, durable trench coat — from a period of brand dilution after its signature check was adopted by so-called ‘chavs,’ a derogatory term for a subset of the country’s working class, and pasted-on cake tins, doilies and aprons,” as The Business of Fashion observed.
Bravo was succeeded by Angela Ahrendts, a former colleague from Donna Karan days. Ahrendts and Bailey helped boost Burberry to luxury brand status and beyond being stereotyped for its iconic check, revitalizing the fashion, opening flagship retail stores, being strategic about distribution, and stepping up on digital. In 2011, the company generated £1.5 billion in revenue, a 27% increase over the previous year, and had a market capitalization of £5.8 billion.
Under Ahrendts and Bailey, the brand embraced new technology and social media to become a digital pioneer by live-streaming runway shows, introducing digital ‘kisses’ and leveraging Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat—along with Asian social media channels such as Weibo, WeChat and LINE and a boutique on Alibaba’s Tmall.
Bailey was also given free reign to make culture and the arts part of Burberry’s DNA, from creating the Burberry Acoustic music platform to support British musicians and also make live music part of runway shows and the in-store experience.
Last month Bailey sponsored and co-curated a photo exhibition at the Old Sessions House in Clerkenwell, London. Called Here We Are, it paid tribute to the social portraiture of Ken Russell, Martin Parr, Shirley Baker, Alasdair McLellan and other photographers who inspired Bailey’s September 2017 collection, which was also found throughout the exhibition.
Christopher Bailey and Burberry were the first major fashion house to dress me and my big arse! He is so enthusiastic about all British talent and he always collaborated with my insecurities to create outfits for me that have become a signature for me and made me feel fucking great! Mate, you'll be missed but can't wait to see what you do next. Love x
Bailey also commissioned a film about Thomas Burberry, the brand’s founder, called Mr. Burberry and directed by Steve McQueen.
But Ahrendts left in 2014 after an offer to head up retail for Apple, and Bailey assumed the dual roles of CCO/CEO—a move that squashed the creative side in order to take on more of a managerial role.
With 20/20 hindsight, critics note that wearing two hats took its toll on Bailey, who helped make music an integral part of the Burberry brand, and as the demand for luxury goods in Asia slowed, Burberry’s growth faltered, and by March of this year, revenue was down 2 percent, and operating profits were down 21 percent.
— British Vogue (@BritishVogue) October 31, 2017
Bailey is credited with transforming the company to a global fashion brand, but shareholders, investors and some Burberry directors were not happy with the company’s changing direction—nor with Bailey’s pay. This summer, a third of shareholders voted against proposed compensation that included a £5.4m award for Bailey, approving £3.5m instead.
When Gobbetti assumed the reins this month, having turned around Céline with designer Phoebe Philo, the writing was on the wall for Bailey’s departure. Speculation is that Philo could be his replacement, having recently left Céline. Gobbetti will share his strategic plans out on November 9th.
“There is huge global potential for Burberry, a brand that has near singular ownership of ‘British luxury,'” BOF notes. “Unlike, say, Dior and Chanel, which have to share the idea of Parisian couture, or the many luxury brands in Milan that have to share the idea of ‘Made in Italy,’ there is only one global British luxury brand at the scale of these continental competitors, and that is Burberry. But to harness this potential, Bailey’s successor must bring new focus to the creative side of the business.”
Bailey told Vogue in June, “I feel like I’m starting a slightly different road, looking at all the different worlds that exist within Great Britain: the way that you can have this extraordinary privilege, and this raw working class — and sometimes depravation — and how so much of it creates this sense of expression and artistry and whimsy and tension.”
That direction, it turns out, is away from Burberry, but he leaves a brand, and a legacy, that will remain firmly at the forefront of fashion innovation.
Christopher Bailey's Burberry departure: "I do truly believe… that Burberry’s best days are still ahead of her" https://t.co/VShtHswm6n
— British Vogue (@BritishVogue) October 31, 2017