As the music played at Burberry Prorsum's show today, the suspicion formed that we were listening to female voices interpreting Jeff Buckley songs. The mix of feminine and masculine was appropriate to the parade of boys passing on the catwalk, shoulders draped in ladylike souvenir silk scarves, torsos sheathed in string vests—the Brit equivalent of Stanley Kowalski's working-class white tee. You could imagine a bohemian sort—maybe even one of the four artists whom Christopher Bailey claimed as inspiration for his collection—sporting the combination to épater le bourgeois at some point in uptight early-twentieth-century British society. One of those artists, Duncan Grant, has become something of an obsession for Bailey. After the show, he was exulting in the recent purchase of a huge Grant canvas.
A Painterly Journey was the title Bailey gave his collection, and an overt aestheticism shaped the spirit of the clothes: autumnal Arts and Crafts-y prints, hand-painted leathers, bags cut from the kind of carpets that would have lined the Bloomsbury Group's studies and studios. But Bailey also seemed to be tipping his cap to a traditional notion of the artist as a virile creator who won't bow to society's conventional mores. Grant, for instance, was blissfully bisexual his entire life, and Lucian Freud, another of Bailey's male muses, was a swordsman of legendary renown. Though there wasn't one hair on one chest on the Burberry catwalk (Bailey joked that he'd shaved them all—at least, we hope it was a joke), the show nevertheless felt staged to communicate a message of masculinity so confident, sexually charged even, that it could survive the imposition of those silk scarves. Hence, the chest-baring string vests. The fringed suede jackets and the horse blankets casually thrown over shoulders were also part of the butch subtext. They may have been part of the styling story, but they were entirely compatible with the manly meat of the collection itself, which went deep on coats, flannel, and tweed, all grounded on terra firma by solid shoes.