The first of the four sessions kicked off with British Vogue Editor Alexandra Schulman and Chief Creative Officer of Burberry, Christopher Bailey. Burberry have been weathering the storm of global economic instability pretty well, announcing buoyant sales last week, up 15%.
Bailey’s talk concentrated on his career at Burberry, touching lightly on his time spent in New York at Donna Karen and in Milan working for Gucci. Bailey’s initiation to Burberry came at a young age, when his grandfather owned one of their unmistakably classic trench coats.
“I always think that Burberry has a place in the British subconscious, when I was offered the job at Burberry I thought of it as a beautiful diamond that had been trodden into the dust a little”.
Talking of his time at the beginning of his Burberry tenure, Bailey spoke of how he knew that to carry Burberry forward it was essential for him to innovate, using the ‘be all and end all of teams’. Bailey went onto describe the Burberry evolution as an organic process which never stops, with many different facets of the brand (graphics, communication, fashion, digital, music etc.) always changing to build a full package or experience.
As Burberry has grown into a 9,000 strong workforce, Schulman pressed Bailey on the never ending quandary around control and creativity.
“It’s important that I motivate, excite and empower people within Burberry, the world has changed, and making sure we all stay connected is really important. We have 9000 staff worldwide, so we need to be a connected company; everyone needs to be using the same vocab.”
Burberry manages to run this uniform dialogue through their tailored internal social media site, Burberry Chat, which is like a Facebook for Burberry. Both Bailey and Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts update their workforce monthly via this platform, so even at the retail level their vision, voice and opinion can be heard.
“We use satellite links and iPads, technology is a connector which has made the world very small for us”
Bailey spoke of their design process, elaborating on Burberry’s inability to accept themes when developing new collections, experiences, scents and products. Take for example the Burberry Spring/Summer 2012 collection, a mish/mash of British heritage, cinching leather and hand-crafted wax African prints.
Bailey had utmost praise for the people he works with. When describing a ‘normal’ day at Burberry Bailey spoke about having to dip in and out of different sectors of the business, not multi-tasking, but breaking up his day into small pieces ensuring quality control across the business without being to invasive.
For Bailey it is important for his staff to constantly want to evolve and to learn, neatly finishing off the conversation by saying
“It’s really important that we’re wanting to organically evolve. When someone stops being interested they just stop. I’d say that it is more important to stay curious”.