Luxury brand gets neoclassical Athenian home

Picture this: a group of young, effortlessly elegant British men and women enjoying a day somewhere in the English countryside. A stylish breed, they are known for mixing and matching the traditional with the cool. This is the world of Burberry – as seen in its ad campaigns – the hit British brand currently celebrating its 150th birthday. Its essence? A nod to a solid past coupled with a flair for what’s hot today, resulting in a booming business spread across the world. The internationally ubiquitous label has now found an Athenian home: a three-floor, neoclassical building, originally designed by Ernst Ziller, on Voukourestiou Street, where the faithful can browse through endless tartan in accessories and homewear as well as fashion for women, men and children. The new store is a franchise with Lakis Gavalas SA. «I always think of Burberry as purely British, but on an international level,» Burberry’s creative director, Christopher Bailey, told Kathimerini English Edition when he was in town for the store’s opening. «We always think of the brand, we take inspiration, we take all the basis of what Burberry is about from our British culture, but we always think about it on a global platform, so we’re working the US, different parts of Europe, we’re working in Asia; these markets are very, very important for us. It’s important to get the spirit of Britishness across.» The company was founded by Thomas Burberry in 1856. A former young apprentice to a country draper, Burberry subsequently invented the gabardine fabric. By the 1920s, the Burberry Check was registered as a trademark, with the red, camel, black and white pattern used as lining. The brand’s current success, however, has little to do with the sleeping giant of a few years ago. Signature quality trenches were never off the shelves, but the spirit was decidedly old-fashioned and stuffy. Burberry’s stunning revival is largely due to a highly successful management strategy developed by CEO Rose Marie Bravo, formerly with New York’s Saks Fifth Avenue department store. Going back to the brand’s DNA, Bravo reinforced the idea of its British roots as a source of style and trends. Bailey entered the listed company in 2001, following a five-year stint with brand maestro Tom Ford at Gucci. At the helm of the creative team, the designer says he’s happy at Burberry and that he never really wanted his own brand, as he finds working within a label more «creatively challenging.» «I’ve never met anyone like Christopher Bailey,» Lakis Gavalas told Kathimerini English Edition. «In all the years I’ve been in the business, I have never met anyone working so obediently on the demands of the time. I couldn’t do otherwise than to offer him his own place when he comes to Athens. And because he told me that he will be around for the next 20 years, provided that he is in good health, I said why not host him in his own house and share it with him.» A pioneer of the local style scene with a 25-year-old history in importing fashion – and, recently, developing his own – Gavalas has an extraordinary gift when it comes to looking ahead. In the case of Burberry, the entrepreneur was already involved in the brand’s distribution in Greece. «It was the reception Burberry had through the distribution which allowed us to venture into such an investment,» said Gavalas of the flagship store. The shop – featuring Burberry Prorsum (the more edgy, catwalk collections) and Burberry London – is the recent addition to a string of new outlets including stores in Bombay, Istanbul, Dubai, San Diego, Sao Paolo, Zurich, Warsaw, Riyadh and Jeddah. While the label grows worldwide, Bailey’s job is to keep moving forward, creatively. Reworking the trenchcoat, for example, is high on the agenda. For the womenswear spring/summer 2006 season, the designer offered a sweet collection of trenches with ribbons as well as high-waist dress numbers developing short, A-line silhouettes. «British style was going through some kind of a low point, with very colorful, more ‘festive’ fashion taking over,» said Gavalas. «But now that discipline is back, everybody loves earthy colors and everybody is going straight to Burberry, since its doesn’t get more emblematic than the Burberry trench.» In a sea of soft beige and checks, how creatively crazy can Bailey get? «It depends on your definition of crazy. I don’t find something shocking whereas others find it shocking; I don’t really know anymore what crazy is,» he said. «For Burberry, I never think of it in terms of going crazy, or formal or sophisticated. I always think of it in terms of a mood. It’s much more interesting to do something that challenges people’s perception of what Burberry is, without trying to shock them. I’d rather make something beautiful than something shocking.»

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