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How do luxury heritage brands stay relevant in 2017? There’s the Gucci way, an eccentric, hip-hop-endorsed renaissance led by creative director Alessandro Michele; on the flip side, brands like Hermès and Goyard find continued, subdued success by sticking to their roots.
Burberry, the British heritage brand still best known for its trench coats and universally recognized plaid, hasn’t quite figured out its path. The 161-year-old brand does bring in $3.6 billion annually and, as one Twitter user pointed out, is great at “convincing tech press they’re innovating,” but the company’s designs are stale. Can you even name a Burberry “it” item?
A change in leadership should help: Today Burberry announced the departure of Christopher Bailey, its chief creative officer and president. Bailey’s been with the company for 17 years and is largely credited with pivoting Burberry from a small British heritage brand into a global sensation. He’s been in charge of both the company’s creative direction and sales since former CEO Angela Ahrendts was poached by Apple in 2014, but growth at Burberry has been slow. Earlier this year, the company hired Céline’s Marco Gobbetti to relieve Bailey of his CEO duties, and now it’ll get a new designer, too.
What exactly does Burberry need to reignite shoppers’ interests? One analyst told the Guardian it’s crucial for Burberry to find “someone with respect for the brand’s British heritage.” Others say Burberry needs new blood entirely, suggesting Russian fashion streetwear designer Gosha Rubchinskiy, who is ways away from Burberry’s preppy aesthetic. Some are even pointing to Céline’s Phoebe Philo, long rumored to be leaving her current gig. Whoever gets the job will need to deliver product that’s fresh, new, and exciting. While France and Italy boast their fair share of luxury brands, Burberry holds a unique position in that it’s largely the only British one in its class. It has legacy and money, and — perhaps most importantly — it offers affordable luxury. It’s also not currently at war with a major adversary the way Michael Kors and Coach are, which means it could actually corner the wallets of the middle class. If, that is, it finds something exciting to offer.