Burberry icon: Q&A with Christopher Bailey
Christopher Bailey is set to seduce us again with his latest floral fragrance.
BURBERRY BODY: ICONIC SPIRIT
If there’s anyone who knows how to seduce, it’s Burberry’s Christopher Bailey. ELLE met up with the affable Brit designer at the company’s London headquarters to chat about his vision, his dreams and, of course, his new fragrance, Body.
You design and art- direct the collections, perfumes, makeup and even the office space. Does it ever get overwhelming?
“I work with an incredible team of people who understand our mood and DNA. I’d love to have a bit of a whine about how hard it all is, but actually I have fun. I love creating environments that touch you and are emotive and give you a little tingle in your tummy.”
Do you ever face a blank page when it comes to creativity or inspiration?
“I don’t! I try to live my life in the moment so that I can appreciate and absorb everything that’s happening. And I am privileged—I meet incredible people and travel to the most extraordinary places—so if I had to go out and look for inspiration, it would be kind of weird. I’m surrounded by it. Real life is pretty phenomenal.”
So you always know what you want to say?
“I always have a feeling and I think the more experience you have in life, the more you learn to trust your instincts. I’ve found that as I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to rely on them.”
Did you ever have a breakthrough moment where you didn’t trust your gut when you should have?
“Yes, a couple of times I didn’t trust my instincts and things have always ended up kind of crappy. And for different reasons.”
Did you always have a clear vision of what you wanted to do with your career?
“The weird thing is, I’m not one of those designers always wanted to do fashion. I loved design and felt that I was always going to be an architect.”
You see that love of architecture in the design of the bottle for Body—total packaging porn!
“I see Burberry as being this beautiful, old, faceted diamond, because there are so many different sides to the brand; I wanted the bottle to feel jewel-like and not just a ‘thing of the moment.’ I see it as another version of the trench coat.”
How is a perfume bottle like a trench coat?
“I look at these projects philosophically as well as creatively. I wanted the outer packaging to be like the trench coat and the bottle to be like your body—this beautiful kind of precious diamond inside the coat. A trench can make you feel sexy, confident or powerful, or, if you’re feeling a bit vulnerable, it can feel protective. I wanted all those contradictions to be represented in the fragrance and the design of the bottle.”
So much of the beauty business is about “the covet,” isn’t it? Saying to someone “Don’t you really, really want this?”
“Definitely, because you actually don’t need it. We don’t ‘need’ anything, really. I think it’s a really saturated market, particularly in beauty and fragrance, so you have to touch heartstrings and be authentic. Consumers are so savvy and educated—they see everything. You have to seduce and excite and do it properly.”
Because otherwise it all becomes sort of soulless.
“Yes, exactly! Stylish just for the sake of being stylish.”
See the new face of Burberry’s latest fragrance on the next page…
Why did you choose Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as the first face of Body?
“Her image is sexy and strong, but there’s a real gentleness to Rosie. She is someone I love working with. She is very beautiful and completely comfortable with who she is. She is so stunning it’s insane. We’ve travelled everywhere together. I get off a plane and I’ve aged, like, 25 years; she gets off a plane and…”
There’s an orchestra playing.
“Exactly, planes and parachutes surrounding her—and fireworks. And I’ve got, like, storms and clouds.”
Is Rosie the ultimate representation of the woman who wears Body?
“Comfortable with who you are in the moment, yes—and that there are many different facets to all of us and that’s okay.”
You’ve embraced social media and technology more than most fashion houses. You were the first label to offer 3-D streaming of your shows, and customers can buy from the catwalk a week after the show. Why is that?
“I love technology—I’m a bit nerdy that way. I love that it unites people around the world. If I’m doing an event in Beijing, I love that a kid in the middle of India or Pakistan or in the American Midwest is joining us and feeling this excitement. I think some people feel that it’s not luxury because it’s a global audience, but I look at those things differently. Whether that’s right or wrong, I don’t really care. I don’t like the word ‘exclusive.’ I hate excluding people; I want people to be made to feel welcome.”
But isn’t part of the whole luxury idea the exclusivity of something you want but can’t have? Isn’t that what fashion is often about?
“I think it’s okay that you can’t have it, but I don’t want to tell people that they’re not good enough to experience it. Maybe one day you’ll be a customer; maybe you won’t—that’s okay. But I don’t want to say ‘You’re not good enough if you don’t have money.’ A brand is about experiences. Enjoy what you can.”
Whether people like the changes with online culture or not, it is happening. I’m thinking about the uproar over the blogger Tavi getting front row seats at fashion week a while back, for example. The print editors were freaking out and all the bloggers were saying, “get over it!”
“Right, exactly, it’s just that it’s happening and its fine. You know, when you think of our [fashion] industry, sometimes we’ve been doing the same things since the 50’s. Yet we think we’re really innovative. So it’s like, come on guys, lets enjoy it and embrace it and engage with it in an un-cynical way. If you don’t feel comfortable with it, then don’t do it. But it’s not wrong to do it.”
The Burberry Foundation is dedicated to helping young people achieve their dreams. What was your motivation in setting it up?
“I came from a regular working-class family, but it didn’t stop me from dreaming. It’s shocking to me that we might not be empowering young people to realize their full potential.The majority of people aren’t told that they are brilliant and are not appreciated. It’s lazy of us not to try to find brilliance.”