Good news – or bad, depending on your memory. The Burberry check is back in the luxury fashion fold, thanks to a collaboration with hip Russian designer Gosha Rubchinskiy.
Going on sale on the same day the fashion industry poured into London for the menswear shows, it launched in Dover Street Market in Piccadilly and various Burberry stores, with both featuring football-themed installations of the collaboration. A handful of teenagers arrived in the dark to queue, wearing Burberry scarves to stay warm.
The collection offered a bold return to the brand’s difficult role in 1980s and 1990s “casual culture”, with Burberry-check shirts and matching shorts, Harrington jackets and a split-colour trench with a checked lining. Gabardine bucket hats and caps, another collaboration between the designers and milliner Stephen Jones, rounded off the collection and were the fastest items to sell, despite the usual Burberry prices (hats start at £175). The Russian designer also continued his more affordable collaboration with Adidas, which featured shellsuits, T-shirts (£40) and drawstring bags (£20) in the run-up to this summer’s World Cup.
In many ways, given London’s lighter schedule, the weekend’s launch makes sense. Rubchinskiy routinely shows off-calendar, but Burberry skipped the London men’s shows last year and this year will hold a “co-ed” show in February. The various collaborations were shown at Rubchinskiy’s show in St Petersburg, the first city in Russia to play football in the 19th century. It’s this theme that the designer said anchors the whole collection to England. “I thought, ‘Which brand is most iconic?’” he told the Financial Times. “It’s Burberry.”
The labels’ shared references are glaring, but, culturally, they run much deeper. Burberry has historically suffered from counterfeits, while the Russian designer often celebrates the counterfeit culture of Russia before the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union with ironic branding and motifs. And just as Burberry became a signifier for the British working class, Rubchinskiy often references the tracksuit wardrobe of the “gopnik”, the Russian equivalent of controversial British slang word “chav”.
Last year, Christopher Bailey stepped down as Burberry’s CEO, having boosted sales to £2.8bn following a shaky decade in which the brand suffered from its own success. Once linked to terrace hooliganism, it later rolled out affordable gateway pieces such as dog collars, the affordability of which pushed Burberry too sharply into the mainstream in the early 2000s. In an attempt to shake off its tricky past, the brand removed its signature check from almost 90% of its pieces, or tucked it into lining.
On Saturday, in Burberry’s own store, the customers were largely affluent buyers and bloggers, who bought multiple pieces. At Dover Street, they were teenagers, affectionately known as Gosha-heads. One, aged 16, in a Burberry scarf, was queuing from 8.30am, determined to get his hands on some of Rubchinskiy’s pins. “We were expecting it to be like the Supreme and Louis Vuitton collaboration” he said. “It wasn’t nearly as busy here, though, so we went and got breakfast before coming back.”
Though an outlier of the luxury industry, Rubchinskiy has turned elevated sportswear into something marketable and mass. His continued popularity comes at an interesting time politically. While the relationship between east and west is frosty, there has been a rebirth in youth engagement here with ideologies that borrow from communism, something the designer regularly riffs on by either referencing the hammer and sickle or alluding to nostalgic post-Soviet fashion. The price point of this collection is not the end of capitalism – but it will be interesting to see how well it sells.