A few days before Daniel Lee’s sophomore outing for Burberry, something unexpected happened in the Bond Street subway station. The signs turned blue — Burberry blue, the new very-bright blue that Mr. Lee has decided to make synonymous with his brand — and, instead of reading “Bond Street,” read “Burberry Street.”
The Tube takeover, in honor of the opening of Burberry’s redesigned Bond Street store, probably seemed like a brilliant idea on paper. So fun! So alliterative! So symbolic! (Bond Street = London landmark; Burberry = London landmark). The problem was the hordes of travelers who, not yet aware of Burberry blue, got confused and couldn’t figure out where they were.
Sitting in the Burberry show, held in Highbury Fields, North London, an entirely different part of the city, I kind of knew how they felt.
Mr. Lee had been tasked with nothing less than a major reboot of the Great British Brand, with emphasis on the British part. He started with that blue; a new logo that brought back the Prorsum knight, the mounted gallant whose banner, in English, reads “Forward”; and, in his first collection, playing around with the brand’s signature plaid, inflating the pattern to enormous proportions and giving it a grunge-y spin. In his pre-collection earlier this summer, he added a dose of sophistication, torquing it into waves at hemlines in an intriguing way.
Then he changed direction.
This time around. the trench was the star of the show: slick and buttoned-up, big at the shoulder, bound at the hips. Also a print featuring the brand’s hardware — chains and locks and carabiners — snaked itself over silk shirts and scarf dresses, the backs of leather coats, and trousers. (The hardware, in its physical incarnation, was also all over the bags and shoes.) Some dresses had zippers along the seams that could be undone at will to open a sleeve, or raise an eyebrow at exposure to come.
There were some pretty one-shoulder disco-at-the-garden-party dresses with frilly tiers, some great military jackets made from ruched chiffon. But the mood, and palette, was more poker-faced, despite a troika of explosive florals and a blue strawberry print that looked as if someone had dosed the catering stands at Wimbledon.
The TikTok-fodder accessories from last season, like a knitted duck beanie (at least one of which was modeled by a guest this time around) and the rabbit’s foot-on-steroids were nowhere to be seen. It was as if, after catering to the Gen Z set, Mr. Lee had said “All right then,” parked those ideas rather than building on them, and moved his attention to the grown-ups. Whom, it seems, he views as an altogether more cynical bunch, both when it comes to the tropes of “Britishness” and the Burberry archive.
Mr. Lee closed his show with a shirtless male model wearing only a pair of low-slung pants in that Bond Street — sorry, Burberry — blue and a belt with a big Prorsum knight buckle. It was a striking choice. Clothes? Pshaw! Strip ‘em away, and it’s the branding that matters.
Maybe he’s right. Maybe that’s where we are now, in our relations with the nation states in which we live and the labels that dress them. But there’s a depth of emotion that is missing.