Since the early noughties, Burberry and music have shared an unbreakable bond. Now that the British brand is back on top — thanks to creative director Riccardo Tisci, famous for his 12-year run at Givenchy — it's worth exploring the relationship between the fashion label and the music industry.
London, the (unofficial) music capital of the world, has famously birthed legends such as Amy Winehouse, David Bowie, George Michael, and Mick Jagger. Today, it’s represented by modern icons that include Adele, Skepta, Stormzy, Dave, Drake (oh wait...), and Jorja Smith. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s also home to locations crucial to the industry — from Abbey Road Studios to The O2 arena.
Indivisible from London is Burberry: the 164-year-old outfitters with Royal Warrant of Appointment. It has dressed British heroes for decades (most notably the officers of the First World War) and is still worn by the most prominent figures in (and outside of) the United Kingdom.
Just like the music that hails from the city, Burberry celebrates London’s diversity. Even more so now that the brand is helmed by Tisci, Mr. Open-Minded himself. “One thing that’s very interesting to me about Britishness is that it absorbs culture from other places and interprets it in its own way," he told Vogue. But Burberry and music’s relationship started way before Tisci’s reign; it began in the early noughties, when the brand was adopted by R&B and hip-hop.
Just after the turn of the millennium, JAY-Z was rapping about Bey’s Burberry swimwear, Ludacris was promoting the brand’s cologne (on his verse on Missy Elliott's "Gossip Folks"), and a pre-Fyre Festival Ja Rule sported the Nova Check at any given opportunity — most famously, in his music video for "Always on Time" featuring Ashanti.
Burberry became the "It" brand of the noughties R&B era; hence, it became the number one brand to counterfeit. This increase in easy-to-obtain Burberry knock-offs led to the fall of the label’s reputation — along with lad culture’s obsession with the house print. So, by the time Christoper Bailey became creative director of Burberry in 2004, he had the monumental task of reviving the brand back to its place, alongside other stalwart luxury brands at conglomerates such as Kering and LVMH.
During his tenure at Burberry, Bailey realized the importance of music to the brand (and contemporary fashion as a whole). He believed that music could act as a promotional platform for Burberry if it was curated and under tighter control. Furthermore, he understood the growing importance of engaging an audience with content beyond the clothes.
There’s no denying that the Yorkshire-born designer played it safe, at first. He collaborated with the likes of James Bay and Tom Odell, respectable artists in their own right, but ones that felt extremely obvious due to their very British backgrounds and squeaky-clean personas.
However, once Bailey had finally cemented the house of check’s place back at the top of the industry (circa 2016), the designer became confident enough to take risks, embrace diversity, and create the Burberry he had always envisaged. Bailey began to outfit more controversial stars such as Liam Gallagher (previously a spear-header of the lad culture that helped tarnish the brand’s reputation) and grime talents such as Skepta and Stormzy — artists who were growing in popularity thanks to the younger generations.
These new Burberry ambassadors attracted the attention of millennials which, in full circle, ended up being the demographic that inspired Bailey’s critically-acclaimed final collections. The stars came flooding in at his Burberry shows, fitted-out in some of the hottest looks from the yet-to-be-released season (including an oversized tie-dye checked puffer worn by Skepta that we’re still yearning for, two years later).
Fortunately for the British brand, Tisci is tuned in to the millennial mindset and their music tastes. The designer is fascinated by new talent and hybrid cultures — which explains why the likes of A$AP Nast and AJ Tracey turned up to his AW20 show clad in head-to-toe Burberry.
Because of Tisci’s Italian heritage, many members of Britain’s fashion circles initially expressed their concerns about his appointment in 2018. In short: they were worried that Burberry would lose its British heritage. In true Tisci style, however, the designer proved the haters wrong by presenting an overtly British debut collection, saturated with references to the UK.
The primary reason that the designer has a strong grasp on British culture stems from his time spent in the capital as a student. Riccardo studied at London’s Central Saint Martins during the nineties and lived in the multicultural area of Bethnal Green, adding to the multitude of inspirations that influence his collections. Each show designed by the de-facto Brit is filled with clashing prints, colors, and textures adorn a range of fits that span from modest suits to reconstructed hoodies.
And if there’s a culture to pay attention to right now, it’s that of hip-hop and grime. Unsurprisingly, Tisci has ingrained Burberry into the scene by working with a plethora of established artists and upcoming talents from the genre. The designer has used Burberry’s classic house codes to create voguish athleisure fits that appeal to these musicians — and later, their fans.
Not only is Tisci catering to the wants and needs of the new consumers of luxury fashion (a.k.a. millennials and Gen-Zs), he’s also channeling important shifts of culture in London into his designs. Tisci has been so successful in his approach, it’s not unusual to hear Burberry receive a shoutout from some of the hottest rappers in the game — for example, Gucci Mane’s reference to Burberry in "Opps and Adversaries," Ski Mask the Slump God’s in "Baby Wipe," and Lil Uzi Vert’s in "New Patek." Oh, and we can’t forget the fact that Lil Mosey’s two biggest hits thus far are "Burberry Faygo" and "Burberry Headband."
What’s funny is that Tisci could easily be mistaken for a hip-hop artist himself: garbed in blacked-out streetwear and athleisure accessories. It’s almost as if he is his own muse. But the Italian visionary isn't solely reliant on current music to inspire and promote Burberry, he also taps into notions of the 20th century he deems relevant for today.
The creative explores the musical eras of the swinging sixties (London’s golden age of music inspires the modern-day trench coat.); the punk and post-punk takeover of the seventies (Tisci’s Thomas Burberry logo was designed by the creator of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album cover, Peter Saville); and the grunge period of the early nineties. He translates the key ideas of these periods and translates them into his designs so they may have new meaning.
For instance, Tisci uses the punk movement as inspiration for his contemporary Burberry; so much so, his first collaborator at the brand was Vivienne Westwood. Why is punk making a comeback? Well, with current concerns around the political and environmental worlds, it makes sense for Burberry to make a fashion statement that reflects the rebellious attitude of the seventies.
For his first Burberry collection, Tisci designed a (very desirable — or should we say, "deersirable") zip shirt, embellished with the words "WHY DID THEY KILL BAMBI." This phrase was concurrently a reference to the British punk band Pink Floyd (who wrote a song of a similar title), Burberry’s 2018 fur ban, and the growing concern about animal cruelty in the 21st century.
Streetwear, in general, has been breaking down the norms of the industry for the last decade, and it seems that Tisci only looks to further challenge the pre-existing conventions that exist in fashion through the music industry. Cue Billie Eilish. Just last month, the 18-year-old singer wore two new-season Burberry looks that attracted attention (from fans, press, and fellow artists alike), thanks to their British-punk aesthetic.
Why is it relevant to see one of America’s biggest artists in Burberry drip at the Brits? Because it shows the point of fashion. Fashion takes ideology and spreads it to the masses. The alternative singer uses her oversized style and dark music to captivate an audience to open up conversations about mental health, drug abuse, and the struggles of being Gen-Z.
Also filled with attitude is the idea of grunge: a concept that comes to play in Burberry FW20, with its heavy tartans and asymmetrical layers. It’s effortless, nonchalant, and edgy. It’s Nirvana; it’s Pearl Jam; it’s what Burberry should’ve looked like in the nineties.
Arca, the non-binary artist who performed at the show last month, represents contemporary alternative artists who are on a mission to demolish social constructs. The combination of Arca’s performance and the grunge-inspired looks connotes Tisci’s understanding of contemporary conflicts surrounding sexuality and gender, and his zeal for individuality.
Along with under-the-radar artists like Arca, the designer also dresses the most established artists in the world in Burberry — including Kanye, Rihanna, and Madonna. Usually opting for the parred-back looks of the collection, these international stars are in favour of the brand’s new thought-provoking aesthetic.
Just like music, Burberry has a multitude of genres. This has been clear in each of Tisci’s collections (up until now), in which smart suits are followed by puffers and tracksuits. Previously, the seasons have been divided into four categories: The Girl, The Boy, The Lady, and The Gentleman.
From this point onwards, it seems that Burberry is looking to blur the lines between streetwear and formalwear. Musicians, especially those from the hip-hop and grime genres, are opting for smarter looks — think double-breasted suits, pleated trouser and tee combinations, and smart-casual knitwear. And millennials are, quite literally, following suit.
Burberry continues to radicalize the industry by breaking down barriers and challenging norms by uniting music and fashion (case in point: Burna Boy’s Burberry suit-cum-apocalyptic-handmaid get-up at the FW20 show). And, if we think about Tisci’s Givenchy revival, we have reason to believe that this is only the beginning.
Does Riccardo Tisci really have the power to change the world with Burberry and music? We certainly believe so.