On Monday night, designer Daniel Lee is set to unveil his first collection for Burberry at a South London location in what is sure to be the most interesting event of this season’s London Fashion Week.
A lot riding on Lee’s debut: Returning under the management of two Britons – West Yorkshire-born Lee and new CEO Jonathan Akeroyd – change is coming at Burberry, which is one of the last independent luxury brands, as well as an anchor of Britain’s fashion ecosystem.
Capitalizing on Lee’s plans, Akeroyd has ambitions to turn Burberry into a megabrand with annual sales of 5 billion pounds ($6 billion), hitting the 4 billion pound mark within the next three to five years.
Read on for BoF’s cheat sheet on what you need to know before Lee debuts.
Akeroyd, who joined the company last March, has been tasked with fueling top line growth at Burberry after a long-running effort to relaunch the brand and take it further upmarket saw progress but failed to translate into growing sales.
Akeroyd arrived at the company five years into a turnaround plan drawn up by his predecessor Marco Gobbetti. A key pillar of Gobbetti’s strategy was to tap star designer Riccardo Tisci to usher in a new creative era, after the appeal of his preppy aesthetic under longtime designer Christopher Bailey had waned.
Tisci pioneered a more modern image of the house that led to streetwear, which succeeded in attracting a younger, more international clientele. But his creative vision for the brand didn’t resonate well enough to really spur growth. As the luxury market boomed after the pandemic, Burberry’s sales remained low compared to many French and Italian peers. Take-home earnings reached £2.8bn for the year ending March 2022, up just 4% on pre-pandemic levels.
“A vital ingredient for brand exposure is a clearer, more original and distinct brand narrative and identity,” Luca Solca wrote in a note to clients in 2021. “Burberry post-Bailey looks cooler, but seems to lacks individual brand character.”
Now, Akeroyd is betting that Daniel Lee will bring fresh energy to the company and reignite the buzz.
During his tenure as creative director of Kering-owned Bottega Veneta, Lee succeeded in reinvigorating a heritage brand, combining the house’s codes with a modern sensibility that was both modern and commercial. Sales increased at home during his tenure. the brand has grown even throughout the pandemic, despite the broader luxury market shrinking more than 20 percent in 2020.
Lee has a track record of designing successful leather goods, an area where Burberry remains lacking. At Bottega Veneta, hot bags like the ‘Cassette’ cross-body and the ‘Jodie’ croissant style were highly emotional, recognizable but logo-free hits, while shoes like the square Lilo shoes were copied around the world.
Burberry is betting that Lee’s expertise in accessories will prove an asset, as acquiring the category would reduce exposure to less profitable ready-to-wear and fuel future growth. While the brand has made progress bolstering its leather goods offering in recent years, with new styles like the Lola and the Olympia bag helping accessories drive an estimated 37% of sales last year, it still trails industry leaders in the space. Meanwhile, her footwear business remains tiny. Akeroyd hopes to more than double that.
As the only British heritage megabrand, Burberry is in a unique position to leverage its national identity to stand out in a crowded market. Lee’s British perspective could be another strength. Hailing from West Yorkshire – where Burberry makes its famous heritage trench coats – we hope the designer can effectively push this positioning forward in a natural and effective way.
With Lee, “it’s not just the magic touch, if you will, but the understanding of what the DNA of the brand is,” Akeroyd told BoF last November. “When we say ‘dial up for Britishness’, it’s a completely different dial up than it was…This will be much more relevant.”
Burberry is at a critical juncture to prove it can still thrive as an independent brand: Investors have been waiting for years for the company’s turnaround plans to bear fruit, and the pressure is on Akeroyd and Lee to deliver. Investors have already expressed high hopes for the duo, with Burberry shares rising more than 40% in the past six months.
The company’s growth trajectory has lagged far behind industry leaders, with annual revenue in 2022 growing just 2 percent over 2017, the year Gobbetti first outlined his strategy to revitalize the brand. Meanwhile, companies such as LVMH, Hermès and Chanel have emerged from the pandemic even stronger, winning more market share – and consumer attention – than ever before.
Burberry needs its new creative identity to resonate with consumers, not only to stem market share losses, but to help the company weather a tougher economic environment. Growth in the luxury industry is expected to slow dramatically, from about 22 percent last year to between 3 and 8 percent in 2023, according to forecasts by consultancy Bain & Co. The most desirable brands with strong DNA and coveted products are the ones that will be best positioned to withstand economic turbulence.
Burberry’s products have become more expensive as the brand has moved upmarket in recent years, but the brand remains highly exposed to aspirational consumers. It is hoped that Lee can strengthen the brand’s appeal to higher-spending customers by drawing on his experiences at Bottega Veneta and Celine.
“Real luxury customers, they’re probably just coming in for trenches right now,” Akeroyd said. “There’s an opportunity to really build on that.”
A big win at Burberry would also help raise the profile of London Fashion Week and attract more international press and buyers to the city’s event. This will boost a British fashion sector hampered by Brexit and overshadowed on the world stage by the continued rise of major French conglomerates.
Simply put: modern ready-to-wear rooted in Burberry’s core British DNA.
Two weeks ago, Lee unveiled his first Burberry campaign. Although he didn’t design the products on show – a mix of the house’s classic trench coats, simple crewneck sweaters and pieces covered in Burberry’s signature check – the shoot gave viewers a glimpse into the creation of the new Burberry. Lee appears to be renewing the house’s connection to contemporary Britain, leaning into the brand’s heritage and repurposing it for today’s consumer.
The brand unveiled a new typeface, Burberry-esque with thin, gently curved letters that contrasted sharply with the blocky, sans-serif logo spread below Gobbetti and Tisci. It also revived the historic equestrian knight logo, which had fallen out of use in recent years.
However, Lee is known for his quiet brand of contemporary elegance, with products that look original and project an elevated image without being rooted in traditional ideas of class. Even if initial teasers of Lee’s revamp showed a willingness to embrace Burberry’s historic signatures, that will likely only be part of the puzzle alongside new and innovative design.
The show could also feature a revamp of the brand’s celebrity and influencer community. In his first campaign, Lee hinted at where things are headed, using a wide range of British talent, including rappers Shygirl, John Glacier and Skepta, footballer Raheem Sterling and actress Vanessa Redgrave.