Thomas Burberry born in 1835 first was an apprentice draper, then by age 21 he established Burberry specializing in outdoor clothing. As with the Barbour jacket, Burberry is one of those cases of absolute identification between a brand and its product. When you think Burberry, you automatically think of a raincoat-overcoat in beige with a black-and-red tartan lining, with or without a belt at the waist. This prototype was created in 1856 when Thomas Burberry opened his first fabric shop in Basingstoke (Hampshire) under the name T. B. & Sons.
Together with the owner of a cotton mill, Thomas Burberry invented the fabric gabardine, which was breathable and made waterproof a first time during spinning, and a second time when already closely woven. He used the fabric to produce an overcoat-raincoat that was generously sized. This revolutionized rainwear. In 1891 the company moves into its first London store at 30 Haymarket.
In 1901, the Department of War commissioned him to make a model fit for military use. It would make his fortune. The new uniform gave a new shape to the person who wearing it. The following year he took out a patent on gabardine, and, in 1912, he patented the Burberry trench-coat.
At the dawn of World War I, it became the trench-coat of the British Royal Flying Corps. The garment had shoulder straps, a waist belt with rings from which to hang anything a soldier might need in a trench, more small belts to make it a sort of diving suit to protect oneself from water and cold, doubled fabric in the parts most exposed to rain, and many pockets.
By 1914 Burberry was used by several polar explorers. In 1911 it became the outfitter for Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole. Also, Sir Ernest Shackleton, an acclaimed polar explorer, wore Burberry gabardine for three expeditions in the early 20th century.
Starting in 1920, after being tested in that terrible war, Burberry was offered to a middle-class clientele and was immediately successful, a success which has continued until today, without downturns, despite dozens of imitators.
In 1937 Burberry designed aviation garments for A.E. Clouston and Betty Kirby-Green who broke the world record for the fastest return flight from London to Cape Town in “The Burberry” plane sponsored by the brand.
Until 1955, Burberry remained a family-controlled company, until it was reincorporated. By this time Burberry was so apart of British culture that Queen Elizabeth II and Prince of Whales granted the company Royal Warrants.
Creative Director: Christopher Bailey
At the end of the 1990s, the company hired a designer, Roberto Menichetti, who started a line that was extremely innovative when compared to the company’s stable tradition.
In 2000, the company is restructured and promoted, revitalizing its success and its sales also in new market fields. Later in September the Spring/Summer 2001 Collection designed by Menichetti is presented in London. In September 2000 the Spring-Summer 2001 Collection designed by Menichetti is presented in London. In the Gubbio workshop where Mrs. Ivonne, the mother of the Italian-American designer, works in an artisanal manner, the garments are manufactured in silk and cotton sewn with carbon threads. Later in May 2001, Menichetti leaves the company. His position is taken by Christopher Bailey.
The characteristic elements of Burberry remained over time: English tweed and trenches are re-proposed in different ways every year. The breath of news brought by the arrival of Bailey as new creative director was shown in the creation of a second line, Burberry Prorsum, more linked to trends and aimed at a younger audience. The tradition of the brand and its essential elements (the use of tweed, the trench revisited with their iconic pattern, and the color palette) mingled with a need of modernization and conquest of new consumers.
The same name of the brand, Prorsum, is the Latin motto of encouragement (let’s do it!), which is written on the flag of the Burberry logo to symbolize a look at the future, without sacrificing the tradition, and the core business, that has made the fortune of the brand.
Christopher Bailey not only revisited shapes and volumes, colors and materials, but brought to the brand a breath of glamor that cannot be renounced for visibility. In addition to the involvement of movie stars, music and fashion, even the advertising campaigns became modern and competitive.
The brand launched itself in unexplored sectors of the market, such as perfume, cologne, accessories, a denim line for women and men in the spring/summer 2009 collection and the announcement of the imminent realization of a line of underwear. The rediscovered vivacity also led the brand to the expansion of its boutique chains and to a restyling of the stores, as well as a new focus on promotional languages, such as the online sale of its products.
By March 2002, the company acquires its own distribution network in the Korean market. In June, they announce that the previous year ended with a 220% rise in operating profit, equal to 69 million. By the end of the year, shops in San José, California, and New York are opened, the latter after a restyling of its six floors.
Later in July, the British Group, Great Universal Stores (GUS), which among the various brands controlled also Burberry, decided to go public. The share price is fixed at 230 pence, or 3.6 Euros. The total value of the shareholding is 1.15 billion. For the moment, only 25% of shares will be offered, which will bring 282 million into the coffers of GUS. At the end of the year, the second single-brand shop opens in Knightbridge, and a new space is opened in Barcelona. The year ends with a 19% increase in revenue.
For Autumn-Winter 2003-2004, the Thomas Burberry brand for leisure and sport is relaunched. This low-price line is offered for young people between 18 and 25 and is inspired by rugby uniforms and jeans. During June 2003, Rose Marie Bravo of Burberry receives the Eleanor Lambert Award during the annual ceremony organized by the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).
New CEO: Angela Ahrendts
In 2006, Rose Marie Bravo, Chief Executive Officer who was said to have led the company to mass market success through licensing, retired. She was replaced by Angela Ahrendts,who previously worked for Liz Claiborne, and took up the position of CEO on 1 July 2006. A year later in 2007 the brand started selling online.
In November 2009 Christopher Bailey became Chief Creative Officer. Through the next years, Ahrendts and Bailey successfully turned around the company’s reputation by removing the brand’s check-pattern from all but 10% of the company’s products.
April 2014, Angela Ahrendts left Burberry for Apple Inc. and Christopher Bailey became CEO and remains Chief Creative Officer.
In February 2017 Burberry revolutionizes the fashion industry and does the first ever See Now Buy Now fashion show for Fall/Winter 2017 collection. Meaning fans can buy the products that were just shown on the runway right after the show.
“The changes we are making will allow us to build a closer connection between the experience that we create with our runway shows and the moment when people can physically explore the collections for themselves.” Christopher Bailey.
In 2017 Burberry announced a new partnership with Coty to grow and development its beauty lines. Later, in July previous Celine boss, Marco Gobbetti, replaced Bailey as CEO and Bailey will remain Chief Creative Officer.