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"Home Bird" Christopher Bailey Wants You To Call It Burberry Check, Not Burberry Plaid

"Home Bird" Christopher Bailey Wants You To Call It Burberry Check, Not Burberry Plaid

>> Christopher Bailey likes to think of himself as a "home bird": he's at ease mulching — "the smell of manure makes me happy" — barbecuing, or watching TV with "soup on my lap," he tells the New Yorker in their September 14 Style Issue.  But he's also the creative director of three-billion-dollar company Burberry.

Bailey is anti-elitist, the New Yorker writes.  He "came from a working-class background in Yorkshire" — his father was a carpenter, his mother dressed windows for Marks & Spencer — and one of his main goals for Burberry is to be "friendly and warm and embracing." He continues: "I think there's an expectation that all fashion companies have to be cold and austere and arrogant, and I just think there are other ways of doing things." 

He loves chocolate »

To illustrate, he tells a story of why it's Burberry company policy that several sizes of each garment be available on store floors so that customers don't have to talk to the salespeople if they don't want to.  When he was sixteen and attending art school in London, he recalls:

"My dad wanted to buy my mum a really beautiful watch from this designer store, and my dad sent me the money. And, you know, this was a really expensive watch. Maybe for other people it wasn't a lot of money, but in our world it was, and it was really special for my dad to be able to do this . . . The service [at the designer store] was so intimidating and so unpleasant and so un-what-it-should-have-been. And I really wanted to call my dad afterward and say, 'Dad it was amazing, and there was this and there was that!' But instead I was like, 'Oh, Dad, it was awful. It was horrible.'"

His roots also affect how he approaches designing — "a craftsman more than an artist, a learn-as-you-go tinkerer," as the New Yorker describes it.  Bailey adds:  

"I love the whole creative process, but not in a kind of wanky way. I don't think you wake up and say, 'I'm feeling a little bit "Grey Gardens" today.' I find it a bit contrived sometimes — for me. Everyody has a different process . . . [To translate ideas into three dimensions] We might draw something, we might do it on the computer, sometimes we might make it out of paper. We often just start knotting and playing and then imagine, Hey what if this was like this? And we often cello-tape things on and then carefully take them to the factory in Italy and say 'OK, how can we industrially do this?'"

Bailey is down-to-earth and even-tempered — Mario Testino, who shoots Burberry's ad campaigns, says the designer exudes "a certain peace — you never really see him lose control, get annoyed, get hassled."  But he also has his quirks. He says he "live[s] off chocolate."  Recycling is mandatory at Burberry headquarters; to encourage paperless-ness, trash cans have been banished.  And he hates when Burberry's signature print is referred to as plaid: "People keep saying to me it's a plaid, and I'm like, 'No, it's a check!'" 

Bailey does pay great attention to detail — his assistant recently told the Times UK of the Burberry HQ: “Everything you see has been passed by Christopher. Not just the building, but our website and the furniture, right down to the bottles of water. He micromanages some areas, such as a new store concept, and macromanages the rest. He works very hard.”

And he loves creating a sense of heritage for his pieces. Stella Tennant, when she worked as a consultant for Burberry, used to bring in bits from her house — like a floral-print bedcover her mother had sewn — that she thought Bailey might incorporate into his designs.  His first few months at Burberry, he took lunch in the archives.  One particular piece excited him: "I'll get into trouble if I say it, but, basically, it's the Queen's trenchcoat that she had when she was shooting, and it looks like there's some blood on it!"  The hardware and patina of last year's best-selling Burberry Warrior Bag came from an old Burberry officer's jacket.  Of the collar on a weather-beaten Burberry trenchcoat, he says: "Look, I love the way this has gone all shiny and waxed. It's amazing, with age, how fabric changes. I always like things when they feel like they've had a life before." 

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