‘The starting point is always an attitude and a spirit,’ explains Christopher Bailey, chief creative and executive officer of Burberry Prorsum, on his approach to creating each collection. ‘This season I wanted the idea of the St Ives artists, people like Christopher Wood and Ben Nicholson, and also artists that I admire like Lucian Freud and Duncan Grant,’ he says of AW14’s hit show A Painterly Journey, staged in London’s Kensington Gardens at the start of this year.
The designer is known for his love of painters, from Stanley Spencer to David Hockney; the latter has been an inspiration on the menswear line more than once since Bailey took the creative helm in 2001. On his AW14 muses, Bailey explains it is a combination of both the work of these artists and the way these men put themselves together that influences him. ‘Looking at them as artists, how they looked and dressed, their attitude and also of course their work that I love so much,’ he says.
If you study some of the works and wardrobes of these artists Bailey references, you can see how they have relevance to menswear now. A self-portrait from 1927 by Wood features the artist in a rather au courant sweater featuring colourful triangular shapes, which is worn tucked into a pair of blue painter slacks. Meanwhile the canvases of Nicholson, specifically his landscapes of Cornwall, seem to have inspired the AW14 collection’s colour palette, which while peppered with print and shades such as cornflower yellow, felt full of the most perfectly subdued hues, ideal for giving off that painterly feel.
The show coats – always the lynchpin of any Burberry Prorsum collection – I could imagine Freud throwing these on to go out for breakfast. He would have fashioned them with a signature scarf swooshed around his neck while Bailey chose to style them with painted silk squares. Grant, a painter and textile designer himself, who also designed theatre sets and costumes, often painted his subjects sitting in decorative chairs or reclining on patterned fabrics. His influence can surely be seen in the patterns and surfaces of some of the more arts and crafts flavoured coats, printed shirts and one of the standout pieces in the collection, the equestrian blanket.
Burberry Prorsum shows have rightly garnered a reputation for providing the fully immersive, 360-degree entertainment experience. From livestreaming to live music, a brilliantly coordinated front row and the perfect Instagram-friendly finale. This season, said ending and social-media photo gold came as the models marched out with the aforementioned blankets worn over one shoulder.
Naturally, one of Bailey’s constant points of references in his shows is London itself. Having moved the men’s show from Milan to London Collections: Men, where it is arguably the biggest draw of the week, celebrating the British capital seems even more pertinent. For AW14, this came in the guise of London maps painted onto scarves or shirts while landmarks such as St Paul’s Cathedral would eventually also appear on T-shirts. Floral shirts added visual punch, pleat-front cashmere slacks sat neatly with the arty spirit of the collection (again you could see Freud in those) while string fisherman’s vests provided the necessary fashion-show curveball.
Aside from his love of art, Bailey is also vocal on all things musical. Music Mondays sees the designer select songs that are posted via Twitter while Burberry Acoustic is a specific music platform for emerging talent. Similarly, his fashion shows always showcase new artists (often performing live) and songs by the kinds of British singers or bands that Bailey admires. These might run the gamut from Dusty Springfield to Tom Odell, Paloma Faith to The Waterboys. For AW14 Faith was joined on the show soundtrack by Patrick Wolf, The Night VI and Clare Maguire.
It’s all about getting the right mix of movers and shakers on the Burberry front row – a cultural jigsaw puzzle if you will. This season, the music industry was represented by Burberry Prorsum front-row stalwarts, such as Tinie Tempah and George Barnett, while the world of cinema was covered with British actors Jamie Campbell Bower and Callum Turner, Chinese actor Chen Kun and Korean actor Yoo Ah-in – the global mix is another of the label’s key calling cards. Plus two of London Collections: Men’s official ambassadors, British TV presenters Nick Grimshaw and Dermot O’Leary, made an appearance.