There’s a distinct atmosphere of something softer and more romantically English country house–like around Christopher Bailey’s pre-fall Burberry collection. It’s not that he’s plunged completely into a vintage narrative, but there’s a feel of a thirties aristocratic house party in the long, slim, langorous crêpe evening dresses with their puffed sleeves, the smart tailored coats with fitted, seamed waists, the corduroy jackets and narrow skirts with peplumed pockets, the muted colors and vaguely chintzy chrysanthemum prints. Agreed, the narrow flares, military bomber jackets, and sweaters with an owl cartoon on the front are hardly “period” dress—these are the expected continuations of Burberry’s young, contemporary pieces. Still, despite the stylized way Burberry photographs its lookbooks, there’s enough of the Nancy Mitford heroine (or is it Wallis Simpson?) about this collection to hazard a guess at what the main Burberry collection might look like by the time it’s fully fledged for the runway show in London in February. Even the accessories that are on exhibit at Burberry’s giant headquarters on Horseferry Road offer a hint about the thirties research that must have been done by the design teams. On display: modernized cloches, felt hats that wouldn’t look out of place walking the moors at Balmoral, and new, box-shaped evening bags whose ancestry clearly goes back to Art Deco Bakelite minaudières.
All of this adds up to a Burberry proposition which feels nicely at ease with itself this season—simultaneously at home with that hint of nostalgic Britishness and the sharp technical modernity Bailey brings to the brand. What’s really clever is the way those two strands fuse in the fabric and cut of this collection’s outerwear. Here, Bailey updates salt-and-pepper tweed and twill (lovely to look at in their traditional form, but too bulky and scratchy to wear these days) in coat shapes in soft, lightened-up material that can be close-cut into seamed torsos and narrow sleeves, and then gives a springy volume to a belled skirt below. The effect? Feminine and vaguely princess-like, but lithe and unforced. Hard not to imagine this isn’t a direct appeal to a certain new member of the British royal family. Those coats look just like something the Duchess of Cambridge will want for all those outdoor public engagements she’ll be attending in 2012.
Photo: Courtesy of Burberry