Burberry’s phoenix-like resurgence under creative director Christopher Bailey is now well-documented. In danger of being consigned to history a decade ago, Burberry has become one of the hottest fashion labels in the world.
A major aspect of this reinvention has been Bailey’s ability to re-imagine a previously staid and traditional British clothes manufacturer as a brand that could be simultaneously vintage and very much of the moment. A vitally important element of the modern world is our use of digital media, so alongside Bailey’s meticulous art direction of advertising, store design and visual output, the company also needed a captivating and elegant presence in the world of online social networking.
In 2009, the same year Bailey became Burberry’s chief creative officer, the company launched Art of the Trench, a photo-sharing website dedicated to images, past and present, of people sporting the Burberry trench coat. Art of the Trench showcases images from professional fashion photographers, Magnum photographers and the public and includes contributions from celebrated fashion photo-blogger Scott Schuman, better known as The Sartorialist. The company describes the site as ‘a living document of the trench coat and the people who wear it’.
Although showcasing specially commissioned professional photography, importantly Art of the Trench is also partly user-generated. Visitors can submit their own images, as well as choose their favourite photos, comment on individual pictures and share them with others. The gallery also links out to the websites or Facebook pages of each contributor. A simple but slick interaction design aids browsing the collection (pictures can filtered by popularity, gender, style, colour and weather) and the deft use of a fading soundtrack completes the experience as users navigate in and out of the gallery.
In true viral style, the user involvement in Art of the Trench has generated much valuable marketing and promotional activity. Between its launch in November 2009 and mid-2010 the site had already notched up more than 7 million visits.
The social networking aspects of the site position Burberry firmly in the web 2.0 world. It is now a brand that may represent tradition and vintage British styling, but which is also au fait with the modern consumer. The use of digital media also helps to bring a younger audience to the brand, building a new generation of Burberry wearers and enthusiasts.
Digital media, and the strategy that Bailey developed, has been hugely important to Burberry’s repositioning and resurgence and to making it significant in the 21st century. The Art of the Trench symbolises the company’s commitment to contemporary communications channels. Burberry’s curatorial preparation of public content and bespoke commissions lends the Art of the Trench a level of quality above most other brands’ attempts at user-generated content initiatives.
Other digital output driven by Bailey includes the 3D streaming of live fashion shows, in an attempt to challenge perceptions that these shows are for the industry and not for the consumer. To this end, viewers have been able to order showpieces online, directly from the catwalk.