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The Burberry story
Feature: 3/5/2002



Burberry, with its distinctive red, black and camel check, has become a must-have fashion brand. Stars including Madonna, Kate Moss and David Beckham have sported Burberry goods, helping to boost its image.

In just a few years it has lost its hopelessly old-fashioned status and become a modern luxury brand - selling perfume, shoes and bikinis alongside its traditional coats and bags. And in July Burberry will make its debut on the London stock market (director-e News, Friday 31 May).

The business was founded by Thomas Burberry who opened a draper's shop in the Hampshire town of Basingstoke in 1856. He invented the breathable and waterproof fabric gabardine and its success allowed him to open his first London store.

Burberry was commissioned to design new officers' uniforms for the British army and its trenchcoats became regulation dress during the First World War.

Macs for the stars

Burberry's gabardine Macs were also worn by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's and Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther.

Humphrey Bogart wore a Burberry gabardine mac in the film Casablanca.
Humphrey Bogart wore a Burberry gabardine mac in the film Casablanca.


The trademark check fabric did not actually make an appearance until the 1920s and then it was simply as a lining to the trenchcoat. The check itself became a fashion item in the 1960s when it was used on umbrellas, luggage and scarves.

Its very British image made Burberry a hit in the Asian and US markets, and the company expanded overseas. But Burberry's sales were hit by the Asian crisis. And it also became burdened by its conservative image and by the middle of the 1990s it was ailing.

Rose Marie Bravo was hired as chief executive in 1997 from Saks Fifth Avenue in the US, and given the job of restoring the brand. She brought in new designs, new products and an advertising campaign starring supermodel Kate Moss.

Re-invented

Burberry re-invented itself and became a highly profitable company, although its US sales have suffered following the 11 September terrorist attacks. And some critics say it has stretched its brand too far.

These days Burberry's designer shirts and baseball caps are widely worn on the football terraces. BBC 2 televisionís Hooligans series showed that football hooligans in particular were keen to sport the designer label.

Burberry has created a new, high fashion image that appeals to the young and rich.
Burberry has created a new, high fashion image that appeals to the young and rich.


But thereís a precedent for that, because in the 70s and 80s it was the Pringle brand that was favoured by football hooligans. These things go in cycles and Burberry certainly wonít be damaged by the football link.

A couple of years ago Burberry was probably worth £200 million to £300 million. Now analysts say the company is worth between £1.2 billion and £1.8 billion
Author: John Gibbon
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