In the beginning
Now the South London Mail Centre was formless and empty, darkness covered the runway. And Riccardo Tisci said: “Let there be light” and there was light. The tarp that had covered the transparent roof was pulled back, basking the space in glorious sunshine. And in his designs, Tisci separated the light from the darkness. He called the light “formal and refined” and the darkness he called “punk and rebellious”. And when the models closed the show, the spring/summer 2019 collection was born—the first collection. Tisci’s debut for Burberry.
It’s rather uncanny the similarities you can draw between Tisci—himself raised in a devout Catholic Italian family; you only have to spot the Virgin Mary and other biblical iconography used throughout his 12-year tenure at Givenchy to see that he had a religious background—and the book of Genesis. Of course, he’s not a god (despite what his legion of fan boys and groupies might have to say), but he is creating a new aesthetic for Burberry. He is starting a new chapter. And where better to start than at the beginning.
“I was thinking a lot about journeys as I started putting together my first Burberry collection,” revealed Tisci in his show notes. “From my personal journey back to London 20 years after I showed my graduate collection here, to how far I have come. I was also inspired by how much London—the city that made me dream to become a designer—has evolved. This show is a celebration of the cultures, the traditions and the codes of this historic fashion house and of the eclecticism that makes up the beautifully diverse United Kingdom.”
The optic white of poplin shirts (worn with matching ties).
The blinding glint of metal bike chains (repurposed as belts).
The honeyed hue of golden gabardine trench coats (adorned with burgundy leather patchwork pockets).
As the first segment of Tisci’s new dawn for Burberry unfurled along the runway, each look creeping across the stage like morning sun across rolling English hills, it was clear that the whimsical collections of ex-designer and former chief executive, Christopher Bailey, were well and truly left in the past.
Slouchy crew-neck tees were replaced with sharp turndown collar shirts; drop-shoulder tracksuits swapped out for rigorous one-and-a-half breasted suits; and oversized puffer jackets for single-breasted macs. Talking about coats, the brand’s signature trench was reimagined with a buttoned chest flap—ingenious for the way it held the garment close to the body without the need for a belt, but yet, still allowing for the hems to flap and billow. For the aesthetics. For the drama.
The offering felt grown-up. Elevated. It was Burberry for the slickest city slicker. A wardrobe for ambitious men set on making their own mark; pinstriped brogues to match their pinstriped suits. Strong. Confident. And resolutely masculine. In short: tailoring was back.
But as hirsute as the ready-to-wear was, the strongest statement came by way of an accessory. Leather umbrella holsters were shown festooned to bodies like harnesses—glistening stainless steel chains strapped across the body—to ensure, Tisci forbid, that you might lose your Burberry umbrella. It was the beautiful marriage of function with form and, strangely, had us praying for stormy weather.
The punk allure of deconstructed tops (held down with thigh garters).
The illicit appeal of rubberised cotton (expressed as an oversized rain hat).
The eternal charm of exotic prints (splashed across zipped-neck shirts and used as a contrast lining in parkas).
While the first act was all pomp and circumstance, the second act ebbed and flowed with a dark heart. ‘Why did they kill Bambi?’ screamed the opening look. There was already a murder and we were just getting started. It must have been a Rottweiler.
Tisci built up a cult following at Givenchy with his graphic animal motif tees—clearly, it seems, everybody loves a bad boy—and this second chapter of the spring/summer 2019 show was reminiscent of that rebellious, streetwear-heavy past. A blood-red hoodie was layered under a shearling-collar coat; a trench coat came emblazoned with the new sans serif ‘Burberry’ logo (designed by Peter Saville), while shirts and jackets were routinely embellished with multiple contrast patches. It felt familiar, yet different.
Givenchy leather boots were traded in for black Burberry sneakers. Those studded stars on collars were cast aside for the heritage Burberry check (used sparingly on a pair of Bermudas) and the new ‘TB’ monogram (embroidered onto the chest of a polo- cum-poncho). He was sending out a flare into the night, rallying his fans, but leading them down a new path.
My favourite look from this section? That smart black-and- camel trench coat worn over a casual zipped-neck sweater tucked into black tracksuit trousers with faint grey racing stripes. It’s the Tisci of the present amalgamated with the Tisci of the past. What can I say? I’m a sucker for a high-low mash-up.
A new kingdom
It’s a curious thing to take over the top design post at an established luxury house such as Burberry. On one hand, there is so much baggage; but, on the other, such opportunity borne from that same rich heritage. And when the designer himself also comes with the benefit and burden of past successes, it’s an alchemy of influences. So did Tisci conjure up a fresh new brew? Or did he just serve us a classic coldie from the tap?
In the end, he played both sides. In a strange way, like some higher power, he gave us what we needed when we needed it. Suits for the day. Streetwear for the night. And while some may prefer the light to the dark (or vice versa), he keeps us coming back for more—ensuring regular attendance at his church—through methodical 24-hour capsule drops from the collection that could only be purchased on Instagram, WeChat and the Burberry flagship store at 121 Regent Street, London. Why? Only Tisci knows. Tisci works in mysterious commercial ways. But you can hold on to this one truth: there’s room for everyone in Tisci’s new United Kingdom.