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Fashion

Riccardo Tisci At Burberry Is Giving The World What It Wants

Everyone expected Riccardo Tisci’s debut for the British heritage label to be a hyped-out, celebrity–charged affair — and then it was anything but. And that’s why he’s one of fashion’s greatest radicals. Keng Yang Shuen reports.

It was one of the most highly anticipated shows of Spring/Summer 2019: Riccardo Tisci, the Italian designer who — through the 2000s — ingrained Givenchy with a pulsing, darkly glamorous and covetable edge, debuting at the 163-year-old Burberry, the most British of brands. Already in the months leading up to it, he had stoked hype and the Internet fire by revealing plans for Supreme-style 24-hour capsule drops; a radical, gallery-inspired makeover of its Regent Street flagship in London, complete with an interactive installation; and a collaboration with fashion’s high priestess of punk Vivienne Westwood. Of course, there was also a new logo (sans serif, naturally) and an inescapable monogram comprising the interlocking letters “T” and “B” — the initials of house founder Thomas Burberry — designed jointly with rock star graphic designer Peter Saville.

Then came show day last September and, for all the grandiosity of the collection’s title, Kingdom, it was surprisingly — some might say strangely — calm. Held in a cavernous mail centre in Vauxhall, London, the show didn’t have a single celebrity — much less any blue chip names a la the Kardashians Tisci’s known to cavort with — in the front row. And then the opening salvo: a plain, pared-back take on Burberry’s emblematic trenchcoat, buttoned up and cinched with a thick corset-like belt. It set the neutral (and largely neutral-hued) tone for the next 40 or so looks — a stream of polished separates with a frisson of sensuality. Leather pencil skirts, silky pussy-bow blouses, more coats that got increasingly bedecked through the sequence — ringed or feathered while remaining simple and womanly.

They make for beautiful pieces in any professional’s wardrobe (think Amal Clooney), yet they’re also uncharacteristically discreet for the heavily street wear-influenced Tisci and a major debut. And it was exactly what the 44-year-old designer wanted. Fashion needs sophistication, he told Vogue post-show. “I know we all talk about street and I was one of the first (to do luxury streetwear), but we forget about sophisticated cuts and Savile Row tailoring.” In a market overrun by designer tees, sneakers and sweatshirts, it’s a welcomed acknowledgement and a refreshing, if bold, statement.

Still, there was plenty to appeal to fans of the street aesthetic Tisci’s come to be known for. The second act in his collection, nicknamed “Relaxed”, featured miniskirts; Mary Jane creepers; shorts, shirts and outers with animal prints (cow, leopard, deer); and an abundance of punkish references including grommets, bondage-style belts and a slogan that references the ’80s Sex Pistols song Who Killed Bambi?. Succeeding this youthful offering and rounding off the collection: seven fluid, minimally embellished black jersey gowns; an effortless and grown-up take on evening wear plainly dubbed “Evening”. In total, 134 looks including menswear went down the runway, with everyone from modern socialites to raver kids to chic corporate types covered.

Tisci’s vision for Burberry is ultimately meant to be an inclusive one. “Why just offer one identity when you can really design for every age, every culture and every different lifestyle?” he said in an interview with Women’s Wear Daily. Being all-embracing has become a common call in fashion today, but Tisci seems motivated less by trends than by a genuine affinity and respect for, well, everything and everyone. (About two weeks before the show, the brand announced that it would stop the use of real fur starting from his debut, as well as the practice of destroying unsold inventory from past seasons as part of its updated responsibility agenda.)

For his first ad campaign with the label, he enlisted six lensmen spanning the established (Nick Knight, Danko Steiner) to the relatively obscure (Peter Langer, Letty Schmiterlow) to capture a diverse cast of models in his collection. “The thing that excites me the most about Burberry is how inclusive it is — it appeals to everyone no matter their age, their social standing, their race, their gender,” he said in a release. “I pulled together six photographers all with a very different energy, experience and point of view of the world… to interpret this new Burberry era and the multigenerational men and women we speak to, all through their own unique eyes.”

It might also explain his first bag for the house, the TB: an elegant, softly boxy number available as a shoulder bag, envelope clutch or elevated bumbag. Besides a handcrafted clasp in the form of the brand’s new monogram logo after which it’s named, it’s completely fuss-free; sensible in style and function with a wide enough range of sizes and colour ways to suit a multitude of women. And this perhaps best captures Tisci’s disruptive streak at Burberry: for all the hype that he can command, he understands that the best — and most lacking — sort of fashion today must be sensitive to the real world.

This story first appeared in Female’s March 2019 issue.