ODES TO THE FEMININE Still Searching for a Fashion Voice, Burberry Fuses Femininity, Mother Nature, and Explorers
By Long Nguyen
The Burberry Fall 2021 collection show taped at the brand’s Regent Street flagship boutique with a wooden platform covered with camel fabrics opened not with clothes but with the series of close-ups montage the British singer/songwriter Shygirl reading an original spoken-word piece.
“What is there to live for but what nature is giving. You are true creation, eternal. A flame burning in the darkest places, the light in the eyes of all who gazes,” Shygirl rhymes the verses as the camera float around her body in a satin corset bodysuit to the moment a model emerged between her legs as her body then transformed into a giant statue.
Art in the service of fashion has been a central tenet in modern fashion.
At the turn of the century, the Paris-based Sergi Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes drew major artists, costume designers, and fashion designers like Gabrielle Chanel to create outrageous show outfits company performances like Le train bleu and Apollon. But, Yves Saint Laurent’s cocktail dress with the painter Mondrian’s abstract color canvasses for his Spring 1965 couture collection – the simple cuts meet the simple, bold colors lines – that crystallized the art-fashion axis in the contemporary era.
Today, fashion designers frequently combed through art and sought-after collaborations as a sort of get-out-of-jail card when the clothes they created no longer seem to attract. The majority of these art-fashion collaborations undertaken by the designer within the luxury fashion houses rarely are a two-way dialogue where each party enhances the work of the other.
Throughout my life, my mother has been this incredible force of nature. As a single parent, she raised me and my eight sisters with unfaltering purpose and pride. So, naturally, I have always been drawn to strong women, and, in turn, they have also given me the confidence to express my femininity. They are not afraid to challenge expectations, and I have always been in awe of their determination. They are warriors. I wanted this collection to feel truly symbolic of the power of feminine energy: a modern armor that captures its distinct aura.
– Riccardo Tisci, Burberry Chief Creative Officer on the thinking behind his new fall 2021 show
Fair enough about femininity and strong women as a string tying together a collection of structured outwear like the opening look of a camel wool collarless coat with parts of the front cardigan collars peeled off, showing the shearling lining underneath. This partial cutaway motif permeates through the collection from a black furry coat with similar treatments at the front lapels, the wooden panel print short dress with large fringes, or a black wool coat with gold metal trims studs and sliced sleeves. These cutaway design patterns are supposed to represent the battle-torn scars that remained on these clothes as vestiges of conquests and a ‘journey towards a better future.’
At times though, some of the design elements are overdone.
The black and white furry coat looked fine from the front but then has a large built-in cape panel in a diamond checker attached to the back. Or take the fine red wool single-breast patch pocket pantsuit also made with a flat panel in the back.
The Shygirl opening segment was probably the most substantial part of this film showing as the clothes don’t match the temperament and the hope that this young British rapper had set out for audiences. You want a lot more if you are going to walk under her statuesque feet.
This fall show is more in line with a specific ‘collection’ show rather than for the overall aesthetics of this massive British company.
Apart from the obligatory new versions of the brand trenches now rendered in shimmering gold leather, or completely transformed into a black cape-coat, or in the pullover cape with the classic print, this collection can be any luxury fashion collections seen out there in recent years. At times though, there are strong affinities of Tisci’s early work at Givenchy, say in the years of the early 2010s like Spring 2011 or Spring 2013.
The day before the release of this fall collection, Burberry posted a short film directed by Marc Isaacs on its Instagram. Titled From Where I Stand, the short documentary asked various participants several questions like “what makes you feel most powerful?” or “what does the word femininity mean to you?” and “is there anything men can learn from women?” From the range of the participants, of course, the answers vary. The film intended to portray Burberry as the new standard-bearer of the ever -changing values of culture, especially among young people – a core demographic for the brand.
The documentary is like waving a now-familiar flag to gather the tribes around principles, not just to look at new clothes, but in this film even necessary?
It is hard not to imagine how much Burberry had entered into the cultural game. Today, staying in the periphery of culture is no longer feasible. The brand would long for proximity and closeness to the youths and establish agency and perception in the young consumers’ minds.
This fall show is more in line with the territory of Burberry Prorsum, a more luxurious high fashion collection created first for women in 1999 than men in 2000, with the brand began its first showing during Milano Fashion Week. Before the closure of this Prorsum show collection in 2015 with a complete phase-out the year after, Prorsum was the premium line, more expensive and more fashion-forward than Burberry London, the workwear classics, and Burberry Brit, the most casual products. At the time of the unification, Burberry intended consistent messages and experiences across all the brand categories.
There is a dilemma with this fall collection. On the one hand, the show provided enough lovely merchandise and merchandising ideas. What is lacking among the myriads of cutaway and folds of the shearling coats, the glistering gold short dress, or the multi-color fringed dress that suppose to represent torn flags from explorers conquering new worlds is the sense of what is Burberry today.
Aside from a luxury house doing what it can to be in tune with the global youths and espouse their ideas and values?
Indeed the image of Shygirl as Mother Nature opening doors to women is certainly alluring, but it is not enough to carry the weight of the clothes.
However, creatively, how does this collection feed the rest of the Burberry food chain downwards? Looking through Burberry’s Instagram, the brand is teeming with so many mini capsules and mini collaborations throughout the year, from tailoring to bags to check baseball caps, probably signaling that at many levels of the brand product, there is a thirst for constant creative attention.
Yet out of nowhere came a gold tight-fitted turtleneck tucked into perfectly tailored black pants with side panel patch pockets. At first, this look appeared strange since it seemed separated on its own with its rhythm. It has all the hallmarks of a Tisci design and little of Burberry.
That said, there are plenty of retail and e-commerce ready clothes even without the need for referencing to femininity or art. But is this what Riccardo Tisci would want?