Burberry's comeback just keeps on coming.
Christopher Bailey joined the trusty trench coat business in 2001 and has been hard at work since then transforming it into a billion-dollar global fashion powerhouse. As chief creative officer, Bailey oversees every aspect of design, from the top-line men's and women's Prorsum runway collections to the fixtures in Burberry's 139 retail stores worldwide.
Even in a challenging retail environment, the brand, founded in 1856, has kept growing. Burberry reported a 27% rise in 2010 first-quarter sales over the same period in 2009, something Bailey attributes to consistently offering "newness and excitement." It's true. Burberry does always seem to have something going on.
At this moment, it's the launch of a beauty line, sold exclusively at Nordstrom stores, Nordstrom.com and Burberry.com. Burberry Beauty is a big initiative for the brand, two years in the making. And Bailey has hit the road to promote it, stopping in New York, San Francisco and L.A., where he hosted an English tea for local flowers Rachel Zoe, Shiva Rose, Jayma Mays, Kate Bosworth and others.
The cosmetics are for women "who want to accentuate what they have," Bailey said. In other words, no pancakes here. "I felt there was a big miss in terms of light makeup and natural makeup that wasn't trying to make a huge statement," he said in the garden of the vacant Beverly Hills house rented for the occasion.
The products (priced from $27 for an eyeliner to $55 for a wet-dry foundation) come in handsome metal packaging etched with Burberry check. Foundation shades are based on the earthy shades of the iconic khaki trench coat. The Light Glow blush, in colors like russet, blossom and cameo, is pleasantly translucent, and the Lip Glow has a nice plumping effect. The sheer powder eye shadows, in stormy khakis, blues, lavenders and grays, are easy to work with.
"Making it light was the most challenging part," Bailey said of the line, developed with licensing partner Inter-Parfums Inc. at factories in France and Italy.
Burberry Beauty comes at a time when lots of designers are extending their brands into the beauty space, either on their own (Dolce & Gabbana, Tom Ford), or through collaborations (L'Wren Scott for Lancome, Rodarte for MAC).
"Even during the recession, the higher-priced premium cosmetic offerings were some of the best selling," said Karen Grant, vice president and senior global industry analyst for market research firm NPD Beauty in Port Washington, N.Y. "Consumers tell us they don't want to spend more than $15 for a lipstick, then they see a $45 lipstick from a new line with great packaging, and they say OK."
In terms of success, "the devil is in the details," Grant said. "The Giorgio Armani line has been successful because the product is beautiful." Versace, Prada and Calvin Klein all tried to launch beauty lines and failed. "We've seen on-and-off success with [Burberry] fragrance. But retailers are looking for new things to get behind. And if they try to draw in a younger consumer, that could be cool."
Burberry's no-makeup makeup is just one of many new initiatives targeting the next generation.
The brand has also been on the forefront of several groundbreaking projects in digital space. In November, Burberry launched a social networking website, Artofthetrench.com, as a forum for people to share photos of themselves wearing its trench coat. "It's been so successful that now I actually go to the site for inspiration," Bailey said.
In February, during the live webcast of the women's Burberry Prorsum show from London Fashion Week, consumers could order several runway styles on the spot — a move that bucked fashion's traditional six-month lag time from runway to rack, addressing the iPod generation that wants it now.
"At a regular runway show, we would get about 1,200" people, Bailey said. "But streaming online, you are talking about a million. All of a sudden you have to entertain. You have to talk to the fashion industry, to consumers, to a global audience. It forces you to think differently."
For the fall 2010 collection in stores now, there's a digital ad campaign online at Burberry.com that allows viewers to manipulate the models and images to their liking. And if you are wondering what music is playing during that ad, or at a Burberry runway show, you can find out on the website by going to the "Burberry Experience" tab, then clicking on "Burberry Acoustic" link, where you can listen to acoustic sets by up-and-coming British artists. All the music on the site is handpicked by Bailey, who has become an arbiter not only of fashion, but of culture too. Welcome to 21st century branding — building something that's about more than just commerce.
But even as Burberry leaps into the future, it always has one foot planted firmly in the past. The appeal of its 154-year-old history can't be underestimated in a time when every company in the universe that has any heritage, from Sea Breeze to Dockers, is dusting it off and playing it up.
"Not everything is ripe for revival," Bailey said. "Sometimes a company has a wonderful moment, and that's OK. It can just be a moment, and it doesn't have to go on forever," he said. "People think there is a formula — you take an old company with a bit of history and find a few pictures of celebs wearing it in the past. But it's not just about the past, it's about the way people feel."