It has become a familiar sight in London, the erection of the enormous marquee that hosts Burberry's grandiose Fashion Week shows twice a year in Kensington Gardens. For a single afternoon every six months or so, that spot just below the steps of the Albert Memorial boasts the much-vied-for, most-A-listers-per-square-foot title as one of the world's most famous names shows off its wares to press and buyers, pundits and brand die-hards.
Burberry's success over the past 10 years has been meteoric: a sturdy heritage brand that found unwanted recognition across football terraces and some of our most wretched celebrities during the early Noughties, it has effected an impressive volte face by way of discreet design and digital direction to become one of the biggest global presences in the fashion industry, as well as one of the UK's highest performing businesses.
"I sometimes describe Burberry as a young old company," explains Christopher Bailey, Chief Creative Officer and designer of the clothing and accessories upon which the brand's success is based. "Old in terms of heritage and history but with a very young team, a very young energy – and for me, that's a wonderful combination."
It's the alchemy behind last year's total revenue of £1,857 million and sales of £1,270 million, and a 24 per cent rise in each over the past year. Sales of menswear alone grew by 40 per cent in 2012, a fact underpinned and celebrated with the launch of a dedicated men's flagship store in Knightsbridge last October. In the past year, there have been other openings in Hong Kong, Milan and Rome, as well as a new flagship on London's Regent Street last autumn. Burberry boasts clothing lines for men and for women, a children's range, underwear, eyewear, watches, perfume and accessories.
In a climate where many luxury brands are fearful of a crisis in the Asian economy, which has propped up sales for so long since the traditional Western markets crumbled, Burberry remains bullish. It issued a profits warning in September which saw the share price fall 19 per cent, but attributed this to wider fears in the luxury market at the inevitable slowdown and the chaotic unravelling of the single currency. Shortly before Christmas, the company announced half-year pre-tax profits of £173 million, an increase of 6 per cent.
"We were the first ones to call it, but things have levelled off," CEO Angela Ahrendts told the BBC at the time. "We've reconfirmed our capital expenditure at about £180 million to £200 million, investing in flagship markets, high growth markets, Brasil, India."
Ahrendts, a 52-year-old American who has featured on Forbes' Women's Power List every year since her appointment in 2006, and made the Women's Hour Power List Top 10 earlier this month, took her first executive post at Donna Karan in 1989 and has not had a sick day in 25 years. She is credited with the turnaround of the brand from aspirational to inspirational, thanks to her focus on emerging markets and a repositioning strategy on home turf.
A 'Made in Britain' policy with the manufacturing of the brand's iconic trenchcoats targets the overseas interest in heritage and tradition, while strengthening the company's national profile — sites in Castleford and Woodrow, Yorkshire, employ more than 650 people between them, while Burberry has created more than 1,000 new jobs across the business in the past two years, bringing their UK workforce up to more than 3,000 people.
The signature lining checks, which were once so prominent, have been relegated from the premium catwalk collection, Burberry Prorsum — meaning 'forward', designed by Royal College of Art graduate Bailey and shown in that illustrious marquee — and feature instead in the more accessible diffusion ranges; pricey enough to feel like an investment and to allow for a certain rarefied sense of exclusivity.
"For me, it's the people I work with who make this journey so worthwhile," adds Bailey. "I have been extremely lucky to be able to surround myself with an incredibly talented, passionate and dedicated team. (Harriet Walker/The Independent)