The news that Burberry’s chief creative officer, Christopher Bailey, is leaving the fashion house next year will come as a shock to most. He has taken the brand from strength to strength in his steady 17 year reign, rising through the Burberry ranks and captivating a variety of new customers.
Just consider what we’ve been through in the past 17 years. The century opened with the bursting of the dotcom bubble. The subprime mortgage crisis in 2008 triggered a global recession, and in 2012, the world’s confidence in banks unravelled. The unrest that we have witnessed over the past 17 years has created a shortage of brave and inspirational chief creative officers.
Is it any wonder, given these circumstances, that we are drawn to leaders like Bailey who keep their promises, keep their cool and show compassion as well as courage in making the truly hard choices when building a brand?
In 2013, I freelanced at Burberry in-house as a senior creative, and was part of the team that helped the Burberry Prorsum S/S Show be live-streamed. We watched as the hand-picked celebrity trio, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn and Karlie Kloss stunned the audience to a backdrop of acoustic music that Bailey played an integral part in curating. We watched the audience’s surprise as the back-wall split to reveal Tom Odell at a grand piano, singing with a live choir as the models walked the runway. A new, connected experience was born.
In that one show, Bailey had not only created a premium experience for all, but also an acoustic, intimate, joyful immersion for fashion, music and creativity. To watch a fashion show being live-streamed for the first time was a second tier of exclusivity; an intelligent digital first strategy which gave people social currency, allowing them to share their experience of the show online.
The fashion industry was delighted by Bailey’s contagious pursuit for something new, but perhaps even more so were the creative industry, especially those of us working in digital advertising. Burberry’s innovations have ranged from the hi-tech Regent Street Store in London (think magic mirrors and radio frequency identification tagged trench coats), to becoming the first fashion brand to introduce "shop the runway" at a click of a button, and throughout all of Bailey’s achievements, no barrier has ever been too high. Even last year’s cinematic Christmas ad was beautifully written, filmed and produced as he dared to share the historic "Tale of Thomas Burberry".
Bailey has been a true creative leader during a time of technologic and economic fear. He has cut through the noise and created real results for a brand that was fading, has shown integrity and courage by developing humanised experiences, and brought back the beauty of fashion, enabled through technology.
So as we mourn the loss of a man who has shown so much hope for the future of creativity, where do we hope to see Burberry go next? As a brand, it must creatively follow in Bailey’s footsteps, building on the notion that beauty can be made by machines.
Burberry must continue to embrace creativity in all its forms, and strive to make a lasting impact with all experiential endeavours, both digitally and physically. I hope that the brand will keep disruptive behaviour at its core, and help awaken a new spirit of creativity in business.
In the words of the man himself: "It’s really important to be disruptive and do things that actually are kind of a little scary and bold."
Jade Tomlin is creative director at Tribal Worldwide London