Founded: in 1856. Originally a draper's shop in Basingstoke, Hampshire, founded by Thomas Burberry (1835-1926), and specializing in waterproof overcoats. Company History: Opened London store in the Haymarket, 1891; trenchcoat introduced, 1901; Burberry established as a trademark, 1909; women's clothing lines added, and Paris branch opened, 1910; bought by Great Universal Stores, 1955; New York branch opened, 1978; toiletries line introduced, 1981; fragrances introduced, 1991; Christy Turlington ads make plaid trench chic again, 1993; Anne Marie Bravo hired as chief executive, 1997; Roberto Menichetti hired as head designer, 1998; Menichetti departs, replaced by Christopher Bailey, 2001; New York store refurbished
Burberrys: An Elementary History of a Great Tradition, London. The Story of the Trenchcoat, London, 1993.
Garrulus, Coracias, ed., Open Spaces, London.
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Brady, James, "Going Back to the Trenches," in the New York Post ,10 October 1978.
Morris, Bernadine, "Coat Maker Marks 125 Years in the Rain," in the New York Times , 21 January 1981.
Gleizes, Serge, "Burberry's Story," in L'Officiel (Paris), October 1986.
Britton, Noelle, "Burberry Brightens Its Image," in Marketing, 11 February 1988.
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Goldstein, Lauren, "Dressing Up an Old Brand," in Fortune, 9 November 1998.
Schiro, Anne-Marie, "Burberry Modernizes and Reinvents Itself," in the New York Times, 5 January 1999.
Menkes, Suzy, "Durable Chic: A Century of the Trench," in the International Herald Tribune, 4 April 2000.
Heller, Richard, "A British Gucci," in Forbes, 3 April 2000.
Profile, "Stretching the Plaid: Face Value," in the Economist, 3 February 2001.
Voyle, Susanna, "Burberry Nets Gucci Designer," in the Financial Times, 4 May 2001.
Kapner, Suzanne, "Suddenly Less Plaid is More for Burberry's Chief," in the New York Times, 24 June 2001.
Burberry was founded by Thomas Burberry (1835-1926), the inventor of the Burberry waterproof coat. The origin of the term "Burberry" to describe the famous waterproof garments is thought to have derived from the fact that Edward VII was in the habit of commanding, "Give me my Burberry," although Burberry himself had christened his invention "Gabardinee."
The original shooting and fishing garments were produced in response to the perceived need for the ideal waterproof—one that would withstand wind and rain to a reasonable degree and yet allow air to reach the body. From Thomas Burberry's original drapery shop in Basingstoke, Hampshire, in 1856 to the opening of its prestigious premises in London's Haymarket in 1891, Burberrys has employed what the trade journal Men's Wear of June 1904 termed "splendid advertising media" to promote their clothing. Some of the earliest advertising read, "T. Burberry's Gabardinee—for India and the Colonies is the most suitable of materials. It resists hot and cold winds, rain or thorns, and forms a splendid top garment for the coldest climates."
Endorsement was given at the beginning of the century by both Roald Amundsen, on his expedition to the South Pole, who wrote from Hobart on 18 March 1912: "Heartiest thanks. Burberry overalls were made extensive use of during the sledge journey to the Pole and proved real good friends indeed," and Captain Scott, whose Burberry gabardine tent used on his sledge journey "Furthest South" was exhibited at the Bruton Galleries in that same year. Burberry also produced menswear and womenswear for motoring from the earliest appearance of the motor car, or as their illustrated catalogues put it, "Burberry adapts itself to the exigencies of travel in either closed or open cars…and at the same time satisfies every ideal of good taste and distinction."
The turn-of-the-century appeal to the ideal of "taste and distinction" always proved a potent force in the appeal of Burberry designs. The traditional Burberry Check and the New House Checks are protected as part of the UK trademark registration and are now used in a wide range of Burberry designs, from the traditional use as a lining for weathercoats to men's, women's, and children's outerwear, a range of accessories and luggage, toiletries, and several collections of Swiss-made watches featuring the Burberry Check and the trademark Prorsum Horse.
In the 1980s such distinctive goods satisfied the desire for label clothes in their appeal to young consumers as well as to traditional buyers both in Britain and abroad. In the 1990s the diversity of goods designed by Burberry, from a countrywide home shopping and visiting tailor service in Great Britain, to an internationally available range of Fine Foods proved the efficacy of the Burberry tradition. The company's power as an international household name signifying an instantly identifiable traditional Englishness is attested by the fact that "Burberry" and the logo of the equestrian knight in armor are registered trademarks.
Near the end of the 20th century, Rose Marie Bravo, who was credited with the turnaround of Saks Fifth Avenue, was brought in to revitalize the company and its image. With Asia, its biggest market, rocked by economic woes and flooding the market with grey goods, Bravo set about rebuilding the Burberry brand in the UK and Europe, and to control licensing by selling only to select luxury retailers. She also hired Italian-American Roberto Menichetti as her new head designer in 1998, who quickly made Burberry's Prorsum brand fashion's hottest ticket for women. Then, with the recognizable Burberry plaid on everything in sight, from swimwear and baby clothes to shoes and dog accessories, Bravo scaled back to avoid overexposure, cleverly hiding the trademarked pattern in a wide range of nonplaid garments.
Burberry took a hit when designer Menichetti left the company. Replaced with the virtually unknown Christopher Bailey from Gucci in 2001, Bravo hoped Bailey could bring a cohesive style to all of the Burberry clothing, though he would be responsible only for the Prorsum line.
Parent company Great Universal Stores was planning a public offering of Burberrys shares sometime in 2002, and continued an aggressive expansion to increase its presence in France, Italy, and the United States. In the U.S., which accounted for only a fifth of the retailer's worldwide sales, several new Burberry stores were slated to open in smaller upscale malls while the New York City flagship store on East 57th Street underwent extensive renovation and expansion. Burberrys also planned to open its first store in Beverly Hills.
With the Burberry name once again firmly entrenched as a fashion must-have, the 145-year old company has proven that its plaid will never go out of style. Looking back at her odyssey of pulling Burberry back from the brink of extinction, Bravo told Forbes in April 2000, "Coming in, I had studied Hermés and Gucci and other great brands, and it struck me that even during the periods when they had dipped a bit, they never lost the essence of whatever made those brands sing." With Bravo on board, Burberry has once again hit a high note.
updated by OwenJames