Christopher Bailey: Designer of the Year at BFA
Christopher Bailey, the creative whirlwind who has helped turn the heritage brand, Burberry, into a global luxury label, was wednesdaynight named ‘Designer of the Year’ 2009, at the British Fashion Awards. It is the second win for Bailey who previously was awarded the title in 2005.
Last night’s fashion “oscar” capped a remarkable year for Bailey, the 38-year-old Yorkshireman, who received the MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours earlier this year, and whose spring/summer 2010 Burberry Prorsum collection was the highlight of London Fashion Week, in September.
In addition, Burberry took home the Designer Brand award. In his acceptance speech, Bailey, who is chief creative officer, announced that Burberry Prorsum would continue to show at London Fashion Week in February.
You want to know why we like Christopher?
Bailey knows how to mix classic and modern and his particular skill is to cleverly update the brand stalwarts, like the trench, with enough fashion flair to make them seem fresh and wantable, season after season. The figures speak for themselves: while other brands languish in the recession, Burberry saw its revenue rise by 21% in the last financial year. That translates into a lot of product sold — and Bailey is in control of it all. Everything you see ath Burberry’s headquarters has been passed by Bailey, not just the building, but the 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.
So is Bailey a scary control freak, unable to let go of even the smallest detail? “I’m so lucky,” he told Colin McDowell at The Sunday Times. “My role is challenging. It is so multifaceted, but that enables me to absorb many things that really interest me: the music for the shows, the website, the ad campaigns, the fragrances — and the clothes, of course.”
Bailey was brought up in Yorkshire; his father was a carpenter and his mother worked as a window-dresser for Marks & Spencer. Direct, natural and always articulate, he is a true Yorkshireman and no pushover. He trained in a tough school, working with Donna Karan, then as chief womenswear designer for Tom Ford at Gucci, before being chosen by Rose Marie Bravo, the chief executive at the time, to design for Burberry.
Despite all appearances — he is always in jeans and a T-shirt, but rarely without a jacket — Bailey is a fashion businessman as well as a designer. “The power that my job gives me is huge,” he says. “It would be so easy to be overwhelmed by the pressure. The deadlines, the budgets, the fact that my life at Burberry is so scheduled, and my days are full from 8.30am until late, usually well after 8pm. And the meetings. I’m always conscious that Burberry is much bigger than I am. It’s 153 years old. My life here hasn’t even reached 10 years yet, but I have been here long enough to say that Burberry flows in my veins. I love its values. I respond to its strong foundations and, of course, its history is a constant inspiration.”
According to Bailey, there is a knack to being a fashion polymath. “I can compartmentalise different aspects of my life in my head, so that, on one side, I have work and all the different projects we are involved in at any one moment, and on the other, my personal life. Keeping them in separate boxes contains them so they can both be made manageable. At work, I need order: cool, clean spaces that really help me to think clearly. But at home, I want that order to be scrambled.”
He has learnt how to go into performance mode in public, but he likes his private life to be private. “You know, I often think I could easily become a hermit,” he says. “I certainly know I can live by myself, although I would always choose to live in a loving relationship.” He is in one now, having recovered from an earlier relationship that ended in tragedy when his lover died. Maybe that’s why he claims: “The most wonderful thing is being happy with someone. Someone who can give you mental stimulation as well as emotional support.”
And he is very loyal. “My best friend is Rebecca. She was my best friend at school and she is still the person I ring more often than anybody, apart from my family. I go to Yorkshire whenever I can, have Sunday dinner with my parents, talk to Mum in the kitchen while she’s making the gravy. That’s when I feel totally happy and content.” He has a house not far from his parents; it’s an old farm, and he loves driving up there from his flat in Chelsea in what he claims is “a really clapped-out old Mini”.
Once he’s there, he has his way of unwinding. “I put on my wellies — I love my wellies — get the wheelbarrow out of the shed and bring in the logs and the coals. My great luxury is that I have a fire in the bedroom. Then I go to see the cows. I usually have friends to stay. We often end up at the local in the evening, having a few drinks.” It’s the same with holidays. “Nothing glamorous,” he says. “I just don’t need it.”
“It’s not looks, it’s character that counts with me. And really, I suppose, I like people in the same way that I like houses: a bit rambly and slouchy. People I can put my feet up with.”
See, that’s why we like him.