As Burberry’s creative director of design, Christopher Bailey has led the charge, transforming the grand old girl into the hip young thing. You might think that this would result in Bailey being a little, well, full of himself. But here he is – just before the cocktail – party launch of Burberry’s latest fragrance, The Beat – with a bright, open face, an outstretched hand and not a pinched-looking entourage in sight.
Bailey attributes his success to his working-class roots. Having grown up in West Yorkshire – the son of a carpenter and a visual designer at Marks & Spencer – Bailey refers to himself as a “worker.” “I had a paper route at 13, and I didn’t know anything about the fashion world,” he says, sipping a fresh ginger elixir. Encouraged by a teacher to go to art college, he did a scholarship program at the Royal College of Art in London. In 1994 he was discovered by Donna Karan, who made him womenswear designer; he spent two years there be- fore moving to Gucci during the Tom Ford era.
“People ask me if it’s a burden to be working for a company – like Burberry – that is so rooted in heritage,” says Bailey. “I tell them ‘It’s not a burden at all. It’s a bloody pleasure!’ Of course it’s rooted in heritage – but it’s a light heritage. When I arrived at Burberry in 2001, I just breathed in the culture. I love both the tradition and the of-the-moment feeling of the brand. I can’t bear it when things are achingly perfect. I like dishevelled elegance. It’s important to have things a little broken up. You can wear the most beautifully crafted pieces, but they should just be thrown on.”
Bailey has brought that same spirit of nonchalance to his fragrance projects, including The Beat. “I’m influenced by music, travel and non-fiction writing. Real life is more fascinating than any story. For the fragrance, I envisioned a woman running through woods filled with acorns and bluebells and, of course, English tea was in there somewhere!” To inspire the perfume’s creators, Bailey invited them to visit Burberry head quarters so that they could feel the easy camaraderie and high energy of the creative team. His muse was supernova hot-model-of-the-moment Agyness Deyn. “She’s got no ego,” he says. “She loves her success and is so happy and easy with it. She has a great spirit.”
The scent’s juice is a “sparkling floral woody” that contains notes of Ceylon tea, iris, a bluebell accord, bergamot, cardamom, pink pepper and mandarin and deeper notes of white musk, vetiver and cedar wood. As for the distinctive packaging, “I wanted it to look like a matchbox,” explains Bailey. “You spritz it, then throw it in your bag. It’s not something precious that sits on the shelf. When you smell this fragrance, I want you to want to hug the person wearing it.”