Burberry’s ambitious, multi-year plan is paying off. As confirmed in the company’s most recent quarterly report, the brand has experienced an increase of 4% in sales, double that which analysts had expected. This boost in sales could be the result of the buzz around Riccardo Tisci’s new designs, which currently constitute almost 50% of the brand’s offerings. However, Burberry’s current momentum seems likely to be as a result of much more than just new products.
This 163 years old brand is the perfect example of what legacy in fashion is all about. During its tenure, it has gone through many ups and downs. From being associated with elitism and the royal family to being the number one choice of football hooligans. But despite controversies and the challenge of positioning between exclusivity and ubiquity, Burberry maintained its quintessentially British image, and remained closely aligned with the nation’s culture. Every aspect of its identity: from patterns, to the choice of colors, and even the logo sewn into its iconic trench coat, worked together to emphasize tradition and aristocracy.
But the luxury market is changing. As millennials are maturing and becoming the main consumers of this sector, values like personalization, authenticity, and inclusivity are increasingly taking center stage. If I want to elevate my wardrobe with some staple pieces, heritage alone simply won't impress me anymore. I can opt to buy an emerging brand I may have just discovered on social media, instead of a well-known name, because my mood at that moment gravitates towards their aesthetic. But what will ultimately make me decide, is if the world this certain brand is trying to convey aligns with my personality or my aspirational self.
Beyond the shift in consumer preferences, there are also studies which indicate that consumption is used to defend the self against rejection (Lee and Shrum, 2012). Consumers see luxury brands as an extension of themselves, as a mirror to their identity, and therefore when a brand is intertwined into consumers’ self-concepts, a threat to the brand is experienced as a personal failure. (Khalifa and Shukla, 2017).
Brands who neglect to invest in the personality traits they want to be associated with are much more vulnerable to changes in the market. For instance, in early 2000 when Burberry was perceived as ubiquitous, consumers probably didn't have anything to identify themselves with in relation to Burberry rather than its legacy. As a result, they were less likely to defend their choice of buying a priced outwear piece.
From the days of a logo that featured an equestrian knight combined with a delicate serif font, the brand logo has changed to an unremarkable and simple bold non-serif script. The old logo communicated tradition, while the new one conveys nothing about the company’s British heritage. "Burberry needed an identity that is fluid and able to cross over into all the categories that are required of a big luxury clothing and accessories brand,” said Peter Saville, the designer of the new logo, in an interview with Dezeen, “something to transcend the company provenance without denying it.”
Whether perceived as good or bad, Burberry is trying to move forward from the elitist perception it once communicated by choosing a “fluid identity“, as Saville has said. The old serif font transmitted seriousness, class and excellence, values that today could be also perceived as rather distant.
At a time when Burberry is trying to position itself as a global luxury house, it has decided to pursue an identity that is much more inclusive and could cross over all categories in the global market, and this clearly shows in its latest collection.
Inspired by the Victorian era, the brand’s Spring/Summer 2020 show at London Fashion Week was delicate, classic and imaginative, and offered a subtle approach to evolution. Featuring dreamy soft pieces with elements such as fringing, crystals and feathers, it also combined sharp workwear with strong, Italian-tailored suits. Streetwear, unlike at previous shows, had some feminine touches. And overall, the color palette was conservative with neutral tones of grey, camel and white with a hint of pink.
It certainly seemed that although the collection was targeting those Burberry buyers who would score highly on conscientiousness in terms of personality traits, it also offers some eccentric, conversation pieces for the high on openness fashion followers, such as the bold baseball visors.
This collection was very different to one before. Autumn/Winter 2019 was heavily influenced by hip hop, with a clear separation between traditionalist and avant-garde looks. A celebration of contrasts, that in reality felt much more of a battle than a celebration, it featured loud nova check designs and eccentric garments that clashed with polite, conservative, British designs.
Tisici is known for his strategy to offer something for every generation, and clearly distinguish between the lady and the girl, and the gentlemen and the boy. “An older generation has different needs than a younger generation,” Tisci commented after the Autumn/ Winter show. But in this latest Spring/Summer season, it seems as though Riccardo’s vision about the Burberry audience took a step back, and he focused on harmony between the segments. The separation between the traditionalists and the edgy appeared more blurred this time, a move very much aligned with the global trend as dress code norms are becoming obsolete.
From the psychology model of the Big Five personality traits, Burberry’s current appeal rests on the fact that it can attract both extremes of personalities. If you are a high on conscientiousness Burberry buyer, some of Tisci’s new additions might seem eccentric to you, but it can also be refreshing to add a fun and bold accessory to a conservative outfit. In contrast, for the high on openness consumer, the eccentric, flirtatious nature of Tisci’s designs might tempt you to buy into a traditional brand you have never considered purchasing from before.
It seems as though the success of Burberry’s rebranding efforts lays in the decision to go all the way with the democratization of the brand offerings, while appealing to different personality and generation segments in the market. The brand’s Spring/Summer 2020 collection offered a much more relaxed, cohesive and global approach to dressing, while still maintaining a level of interest, similar to when one learns to work with his or her inner personality traits and nuture and embrace them. This collection felt much more in tune with Burberry's brand DNA, and Tisci’s Italian glamorous self.
As Tisici shared in the collection’s show notes: “My first year at Burberry was about understanding and refining the new codification for the house.”