Established in 1856, Burberry is one of the oldest fashion labels in existence, one with a history of innovation. Thomas Burberry, the founder, invented gabardine in 1880, offering England a comfortable yet waterproof fabric for riding, shooting, and other soggy country pursuits. The company became famous for outfitting explorers, including Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole in 1911. In 1914 Burberry invented the trenchcoat when it was asked to adapt a design for practical wear by World War I officers in the trenches. But while Burberry's stock only rose and rose in the twentieth century, as its hardworking wares crossed over and became fashionable—with style icons from Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca to Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany's making the trench look unforgettably chic—it wasn't until the late 1990's that the house became known for much beyond mackintoshes and that famous beige check.
Rose Marie Bravo came on board as chief executive in 1997, leading the company as it began to mine its potential as a luxury brand. The Burberry Prorsum ready-to-wear collection was launched by Roberto Menichetti after he was hired in 1998 as creative director. An ad campaign shot by Mario Testino and starring Kate Moss and Stella Tennant followed, recasting Burberry's conservative, rather fusty image as youthful and sexy while still emphasizing its quintessential Britishness. In 2001 the house appointed Christopher Bailey, formerly a Gucci womenswear designer under Tom Ford, as creative director. The introduction of fragrance, menswear, and accessories has boosted the company's bottom line. And Bailey's designs have managed to balance Burberry's venerable heritage with a hip and contemporary aesthetic. When you think of Burberry today you still think of the trench—but redone, for instance, in python.
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