Christopher Bailey never tires of Burberry's illustrious past. "We can translate everything so many times and it always feels different, depending on the mood of the moment," the designer said, after a show that had taken as its jumping-off point the outfits Thomas Burberry designed for England's first motorbike riders in the early 1900's. Heritage Biker was the name of the collection, but Thomas would have been hard-pressed to recognize his pioneering work in Bailey's motorcycle mamas with their tiny little jackets, leather leggings, and eight-inch heels. That's because form followed function for old Mister Burberry, whereas for young Master Bailey, form follows fashion. And fashion, as the designer saw it this season, meant a super-attenuated, super-sexy, super-skintight raid on the company heritage.
The easiest way to take the temperature of a new Burberry collection is to note what's being done to the iconic trench. Here, it was shrunken into a zipped-up mini with motocross sleeves, or banded in black leather and belted in pale blue patent, or shrunken still further into a baby biker jacket. It was studded, and domed, and all done up in python. For Fall, Bailey had been reasonably literal in his iteration of Burberry's military archive, with a special focus on the aviator jacket, and it produced his strongest outing to date. Here, by comparison, he trimmed biker tradition to the literal bare minimum, and the collection lost that rock-solid Burberry core. It was like watching Burberry Girl go Bond Girl, especially when the tiered silk dresses that Bailey has introduced into the company design lexicon arrived with their backs scooped dangerously low, like the pink petaled silk apron dress that appeared held in place by bands of black leather.
As for the collection's inspiration, Bailey's models were less heritage bikers than Hell's Angels in silver leather pants, or leather jeans so studded they'd shred the seat of a Norton. To appreciate fully the changes Bailey has wrought in his super-productive decade at the helm of Burberry, a heavily studded jacket in python thrown over a leopard-spot silk sheath—again banded in black leather and worn with those killer heels—was about as far from the designer's original English roses as heaven is from… well, hell. Along the way, he has turned the brand into a global powerhouse. Still, as the models focused (not always successfully) on staying upright today, it was hard not to imagine the same looks anchored by a pair of solid Thomas Burberry biker boots—or, thinking back to last season's terrific shearling-lined numbers, at least their twenty-first-century equivalent.