Michigan Avenue's New Burberry Flagship
BY LAURIE BROOKINS
Get ready, Chicago: Christopher Bailey is a big fan. “What I love are the contradictions of the city,” says the chief creative officer of iconic British label Burberry. “It’s a very artistic city, yet it’s also a real business city. It’s an imposing city, yet one with a lot of green space and an attention to outdoor sculpture. Chicago feels like a place where there’s an admiration for something that has a long heritage, and that of course appeals to us.”
This month you’ll see Bailey’s admiration come to fruition as Burberry opens its largest US flagship (16,800 square feet) on November 2 at 633 North Michigan Avenue. “We’ve had a store in Chicago that’s done very well for many years, but this is a very large statement for us, there’s no doubt about it,” says Bailey, who will be in town to christen the new location at a grand-opening party, tentatively set for November 29. “What we’re trying to do is bring this kind of beautiful, architectural side of Burberry to a pretty incredible part of the city and, in a way, immerse it in a bit of Britishness that also feels quite modern, because I think of Chicago as the epitome of a modern city in many ways.”
To that end, rather than replicating a cookie-cutter look common to retail locations, Bailey—who oversees store design and advertising campaigns in addition to the 12 collections he produces yearly for the 156-year-old brand—says he preferred to create a wholly new environment as the frame for his mix of forward-thinking ready-to-wear, punctuated of course by those highly popular check-lined trench coats. “Often with stores you’ll kind of develop a concept and then roll that out to different locations—here we started with a blank sheet of paper,” he says. “We took some of the best of our other stores, and the rest we did specifically for Chicago. It’s the biggest glass building we’ve ever done, which hopefully allows for light and transparency, which we love, but also makes you feel a sense of intimacy.”
The building’s façade plays with the scale of Burberry’s signature tartan check, which the label first introduced in the 1920s; inside there’s a decided focus on showcasing Burberry’s love for the digital age, with a theater space that allows for live broadcasts on a tiled video wall, as well as interactive touch screens and other video installations throughout the store. The statement-making flagship will also offer one of the most comprehensive selections of Bailey’s men’s and women’s collections available in the US: For the latter, the store opens with his “Town and Field” look at fall/winter, a chic mix of herringbone and tweed as well as of-the-moment details such as diagonal ruffles on a pencil skirt or a herringbone peplum as contrasting panels on a camel coat. Accessories, meanwhile, will range from a must-have bag of the season, the top-handled, hexagonal-shaped Orchard, to a watch rollout that’s key for the brand, the Britain.
In 2014 the Burberry trench coat will celebrate its 100th birthday, having been commissioned by England’s War Office in 1914 to adapt an officer’s coat for a more contemporary era; after World War I the style immediately became popular with civilians. And if over the years the focus on the trench seems to sometimes overshadow other elements of the collection, Bailey not only doesn’t seem to mind, he eagerly embraces it. “What I do every season is take the trench coat as the starting point,” he explains. “I try to give it a relevance and make it up-to-date for the way we live. We have more than 150 years of history, and I feel like there are still so many facets of the brand to explore.”
Bailey’s dedication to the coat extends to a digital platform he created in 2009, an online site dubbed Art of the Trench, which he notes will likewise be key to the Chicago opening. “As the store opening nears you’ll see Art of the Trench in ads all around the city and in the store as well [after opening],” Bailey notes, adding that Chicagoans will be key to the project, with photographers hired to document chic trench wearers throughout the city, culminating in an exhibit both online and in the store. “We wanted to do something that showed our commitment to the city, something that felt like it had a real integrity about it. We sometimes describe Burberry as an old-young company: We’re about to turn 157 years old, but we’re a very young team. And that kind of digital technology/communication/ social media influence is a very instinctive part of the culture, so it felt right to make it very inclusive in our Chicago experience.”
When we spoke in early October, Bailey also was finalizing the details for a capsule collection of limited-edition pieces that would be exclusively available in the new store: “about 30 women’s styles, and then five men’s really iconic trench coats,” he says. “I wanted to do it all in black and white with a touch of pale gold; I love the modernity of black and white, but also wanted that iconic trench color. We’ve only done this once before, for the London store opening a couple of months ago. But I love the idea of a one-off collection that does not and will not exist anywhere else. It’s very special.”
Just as he does throughout his ready-to-wear collections, Bailey will mix this capsule collection with modernist details that put a forward-thinking spin on Burberry’s heritage elements. “The trench coat is a real classic that also appeals to someone who loves fashion,” he says. “We think of it as a chameleon of a coat, and that idea extends to everything we do. I hope people see that we always respect our history and the foundation of where we come from, and we know we have a customer who loves the heritage and loves the classicism of the brand. And by working with social media and digital technology, we also talk to a younger audience, eager to discover us as well.”
Just like every project Bailey touches, the Michigan Avenue store promises to be a similarly chic amalgam of modern-meets-heritage, forward-meets-classic. Bailey adds that this month he’ll be among the most excited to see the results of those efforts. “We were very lucky with this site,” he says. “It’s allowed us to create something that is architecturally interesting and also has a modern point of view. It feels like just the right place and the right moment to set down some roots.”
Michigan Avenue celebrates with cover star Harrison Ford at Chicago Cut Steakhouse.