Burberry Returns to London With Riccardo Tisci’s “Most Burberry” Collection Yet
“Britishness is an attitude,” says Burberry’s creative director Riccardo Tisci. We’re sitting in a duck’s egg-blue room in Westminster’s Methodist Central hall, where the designer’s AW/22 show has just finished and he’s rushing between interviews. “It’s a collection of emotional images put together in a very daring way.” Tisci himself seems unemotional, calm. He’s wearing all black, the only nod to the brand he helms a patinated Prorsum logo (reimagined for this season) bounding across his shirt.
The collection we’re here to discuss—Burberry’s first physical show since the pandemic began—was mounted as a multisensory spectacle in the palatial main hall of the Rickards-designed neo-baroque building, just a button’s throw from the brand’s Horseferry House HQ.
“We were supposed to show during fashion week last month,” Tisci tells me in Italian-lilted English, quick and soft, “because Burberry represents so much of the culture of England. But then between Covid and all the related problems—and all the big changes at Burberry with our CEO Marco Gobbetti leaving—we chose to show in London but on our own schedule, and it felt very special.”
The first half of Tisci’s co-ed offering was dedicated entirely to menswear. Models zigzagged their way out from behind a giant pipe organ and down into the attendant throng of editors and celebrities for a run of 40 looks. Before the show began, members of the crowd, clad in Burberry’s trademark blacks, beiges, and reds (the brand dressed nearly half the guests) had positioned themselves around a series of tables, immaculately furnished with Burberry-emblazoned crockery.
Jacob Elordi looked on from his densely populated table in the middle of the space as the models wound towards him from the front stage of the hall, while Adam Driver furrowed his brow at the side, as the pendulum swung towards womenswear for the second half of the show. Unlike the male models who walked before them, the women veered off the pre-ordained path through the crowd, choosing instead to walk up and over the tables, stopping briefly in the middle to pose for the cameras as a live orchestra played on both sides of the hall.
An exercise in high-key contrast, boys in leather duffles, tracksuits, and heavy-duty sneakers—all black—looked out of place in their consecrated surrounds; while women in beige pleated two-pieces and gowns made from deconstructed trenchcoats looked like drunken debutants, stomping unceremoniously between the plates. The spectacle made for a subversive, slightly febrile atmosphere.
During his three-and-a-half years at Burberry, Tisci, who made his name with a certain hard-edged, gothic luxury at Givenchy, has worked hard to develop his own interpretation of British style. Each season he riffs on the trench coat, the brand’s famous staple piece, last season sending out models in sleeveless takes, and the season before showing trenches belted with chi-chi silk scarves. For AW/22, however, the designer took his deep dive into Britishness a fathom further.
“It takes time to find your identity when you come to work for a company which is so powerful and so big and represents so much about a country—especially a country like England, which has so much style,” says Tisci, seriously. “So I think this is the collection that’s firstly the most Burberry, and secondly the most me.” He pauses. “It’s also emotional because of what’s happening in the world and in life.”
Had the models wearing sleeveless puffer rugby shirts over trench coats not been walking on a high fashion runway they might have looked like schoolboys at a bus stop, cupping covert cigarettes behind their hands. Bright red duffle coats with asymmetric leather fastenings and oversized leather pouches, designed to look like Burberry-branded cereal boxes, took the British youth inspiration into a more playful space, while bonnet-style hoods, made of contrast shirt collars and yokes, bought to mind kids pulling off uniforms in a hurry to get to football practice.
Some of the more intriguing looks in the collection played on the outerwear pieces for which Burberry is best known. Classic waxed jackets, quilted car coats, and trenches were worn with skirts in matching fabrics, and the resulting silhouettes were both edgy and appealing. “Thomas Burberry did some amazing things, but then it was all about the trench, the car coat, the Harrington, and the check. Fantastic. Beautiful. But you need to explore,” Tisci tells me. “People have changed. The young don’t care about sexuality, or being closed in a box—being recognised as a man, woman, she or he.”
Tisci’s mission to attract a younger audience with this fluid approach to the classics squares with the launch of his new Burberry and Supreme collaborative collection, which was met with snaking queues outside Burberry’s London stores earlier this week. The collection is Tisci’s first collaborative effort since he partnered with Vivienne Westwood during his first few months at Burberry in 2018.
“People were waiting for a collaboration from me because I was one of the first designers to do collaborations years ago,” he says. “When I arrived at Burberry I did the collaboration with Vivienne Westwood—for me she is the real queen of England—but then I was like, let other people do the collaboration thing for a while. Burberry is a big company, and it takes a long time to move things and to change. It’s not a fashion company, but it’s becoming one.”
On his vision for Burberry, the designer is clear. The key lies in capturing the contrast between old and new—between the strict tradition which defines so much of Britain’s history and the groundbreaking modernity which makes up its present. “We are a country that had the skinheads and the punks,” he says. “We have a history of breaking down barriers but at the same time there is the reality of English elegance—like with the tables in the show.”
Tisci, of course, is Italian. I ask if it’s easier for him, as a foreigner, to understand and interpret Britishness. “Sometimes for Italian designers to do Italian style is very difficult,” he says, “but for an Italian to do British—I’m not saying it’s good—but you can be much more daring with it.” He pauses. “Italian culture is about passion, but in England, we are very polite. At the same time, there’s a twist of strength in the English. Most aristocratic people in the world have very English wardrobes, but then British people like Leigh Bowery changed the wardrobe of menswear, so it was like a potpourri of many things together.”
This story originally ran on British GQ with the title “Burberry’s return to London was a starry celebration of Britishness”