When I saw photos of Burberry’s Elizabethan-inspired clothing on the website, I knew I had to find out more. Visiting the Burberry website led me to an invitation to the 8-day free pop-up fashion and crafts event co-hosted by Burberry (the luxury British fashion brand known for its trench coats and trademark check pattern) and The New Craftsmen (a network of Britain’s finest crafts makers) at Makers House in Soho. I was lucky to have some free time on the final day of the pop-up event.
This autumn, Burberry chief creative Christopher Bailey created a predominantly Elizabethan-inspired and military-esque (or historically-inspired) collection. The collection was inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, in which the protagonist, a male nobleman from the 16th Century, becomes a woman and lives for more than 300 years. (Interesting fact: Christopher Bailey’s partner, Simon Woods, starred in quite a few period dramas, the most notable being Pride & Prejudice (2005) in which he plays Mr Bingley.) Bailey was also inspired by Nancy Lancaster’s English country-house style. At Makers House, fashion and craft complimented each other, both drawing from the past (particularly the 16th Century) and finding its place (or leaving its mark) in the 21st Century.
Makers House had been transformed with flowers, statues, carpeting, and an exterior make-over to remind visitors of an English country-house, namely Ditchley Park. Ditchley, by the way, was a filming location for The Young Victoria and the final series of Downton Abbey. It’s only when I had a really good look at the building did I realise that it was rather plain save for the grand staircase. (The building, apparently, is set to be demolished to make room for new lux buildings.) Around the house and ‘garden’, busts and statues of well-known figures, such as Queen Elizabeth I and Queen Victoria, lined the walls.
Inside Makers House, guests could wander around the ground floor to see artisans demonstrate various skills at each station, from bookbinding to lacquering, and sculpting to embroidery. It was fascinating to see the artisans at work and it also reminded me that many of their skills had been passed down throughout the centuries. Just as Orlando had lived on for three centuries, the craft was constantly evolving. The photos below show artist Holly Frean, who did miniature portraits, in her tent; Rosalind Wyatt writing our names with a calligraphy pen (ink jar-style) with her calligraphy-stitched artwork on display; and Kings Troops leather saddlers’ leather creations (some of which looked familiar to me as I had seen artefacts at the Museum of London of leather jugs and leather buckets).
The grand staircase leads visitors to where Burberry’s runway show took place recently on 19 September. The top floor presents the ‘September’ collection (yes, that is what it’s called not just when it debuted) of male and female wear, many of which are unisex, and all of which are already available to be purchased in stores and online. Naturally, I was drawn to the ruffled collars and cuffs (Regency-inspired?), ruffs (Elizabeth collars), and embroidered military jackets (in particular, Hussar military uniforms?). I was hoping that this trend could spread to other fashion brands so that I could find more purse-friendly options that would suit my style.
Later online, I found that the names of the clothing were pretty intuitive. If something looked like tapestry, it had the word featured in the name. The ones that reminded me of pyjamas were called Pyjama-style [article of clothing].
The music playing in the house was Ilan Ishkeri’s Reliquary score, specifically composed for the fashion show. You may recognise motifs from Ishkeri’s score as he was the composer for period dramas such as The Young Victoria, The Invisible Woman, and Doctor Thorne, to name a few.
One important theme I learned from Bailey’s collection is the redefinition of gender. The only noticeable difference – in my non-fashion-knowledgeable view – in the women’s collection is that there are dresses and heels. Otherwise, both men’s and women’s clothing could have been interchangeable, as most outfits had floral patterns and ruffled collars and cuffs. I personally saw this as going back in time to when it was socially acceptable – and fashionable – for men (in particular) to wear floral embroidered waistcoats, for instance. I only wonder how long, in a world where men’s fashion seems quite restrictive or limited, it would take before the general male population will deem it ‘manly’. (I did not take gender studies or fashion history so if you have, maybe you can fill me in on what I know nothing about.)
I have been a firm believer of wearing whatever you like. So I am happy for my friends who may not have to wait forever before stores are no longer separated by gender but styles. But in a day when everything familiar is being redefined, especially when it comes to identity, even ‘masculine’ and ‘feminine’ may soon be considered antiquated. So who knows, maybe stores won’t be separated by gender or styles. My only wish is that we won’t end up being forced to become clones wearing ‘gender-neutral’ or unisex clothing. Long live variety (including historically-inspired clothing)!