As fashion continues to be held to account, be it ethically, sustainably or socially, Burberry is a brand that has frequently asserted itself as representing one of the more positive and progressive parts of the industry, something that is clear in their latest campaign, Voices of Tomorrow. They have enlisted progressive, influential figures from dance, sport and fashion to promote their vision. The campaign name suggests that these are the people and principles that Burberry sees forming our future.
The most notable talent featured is Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford, whose notoriety increased this year when not once, but twice, he led pleas for the government to extend free school meals throughout the holidays in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, later receiving an OBE. The campaign places Rashford at its centre, and a moving letter he wrote to his ten year old self has been published on Burberry’s website, in which he emphasises the importance of community, with the reassurance that one day he will ‘repay’ the ‘neighbours and friends’ whose support has got him to where he is today.
Burberry has consistently proved themselves to be socially conscious, establishing The Burberry Foundation in 2008 to support charity work and grant-making. This work has manifested in a myriad of ways; from collaborations with Oxfam on poverty and sustainability and Teach First on educational inequality, to supporting arts education through Burberry Inspire in 2018. They have also made important environmental commitments, committing to using 100% renewable energy by 2022.
The house has made notable contributions to the response to the pandemic, donating PPE and funds towards vaccine research, and mobilising a Yorkshire factory to manufacture non-surgical gowns for medical and care workers. Furthermore, in response to Rashford’s spotlight on support for food banks and youth centres, they have given the equivalent of 200,000 meals to FareShare, a charity Rashford expressed support for. This is perhaps especially admirable in light of the fact that the brand, like many businesses, suffered due to the pandemic – from the commencement of lockdown in March to June, retail sales fell 48%.
This makes Burberry an appropriate match for Rashford, which he confirmed, stating that, ‘Burberry is THE British brand with strong ties to the North of England […] It is very rare that I partner in a formal capacity, but […] Burberry shared my vision in bettering local communities through investment into youth centres, which play a pivotal role in the childhood of many.’ It may still seem strange for such a renowned luxury and, for the majority, inaccessible brand to be running this campaign – it strongly eschews the perception of high fashion as being out of touch. But despite their largely unreachable price point, the house has long had an association with accessibility and practicality; its founding principle was to ‘protect people from the British weather.’
For their iconic trench coats, Burberry developed gabardine, a water-resistant cloth more comfortable and functional than traditional waxed material, making them perfect for use during WW1, when Burberry produced approximately half a million coats for soldiers. In more recent memory, the iconic Burberry check has been heavily reappropriated, now arguably the most copied print in counterfeit merchandise. This significantly diminished their highbrow reputation – their most recognisable print was on every street corner, in the form of plastic luggage, umbrellas, and cheap scarves, causing it to fall out of use in Burberry designs. While this is something the brand was clearly not entirely pleased with, it established a sense of understanding and a connection to street culture, particularly relevant due to the recent resurgence of y2k fashion and logomania.
This is clear in the new campaign, in which Rashford models pieces that, though recognisably Burberry in features such as prints and quilting, are relatively casual – shirts and ties sit beneath puffer jackets and vintage looking windbreakers, worn with trainers. In the campaign video, dancers perform in the streets of London, before reaching the coast in the midst of colossal hailstones, demonstrating that the brand’s initial aim remains at the forefront of their design. Performers such as Zhané Samuels wear signature trench coats and well tailored suits, alongside crossbody bags and puffers, presenting the brand’s designs as dynamic and wearable, and drawing from streetwear trends. Perhaps most significant is the emblazoning of the iconic check across many of the pieces, clearly conveying Burberry’s embrace of youth culture.
While it may be disappointing that charity work and community support are coming from footballers and fashion brands rather than the government themselves, it is positive and refreshing to see a large business, particularly one so tied to British heritage, acting with a conscience, hopefully encouraging others to use their platforms to amplify and support important voices and causes, while inspiring exciting design.
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