The History Behind Burberry’s Check

The History Behind Burberry's Check

After 17 years with the company, Christopher Bailey, is set to leave Burberry.

During his time with the brand, Bailey acted as both chief creative officer and president.

With that, he used the Spring/Summer 2018 collection, this February, as his final contribution.


2001 was the year Bailey was brought on to the Burberry team and it was also the year the brand faced one if their biggest concerns: brand dilution.

Prior to Bailey, Burberry had been considered a staple in British luxury and been considered so, for decades.

The brand dilution came from the sudden gain in popularity of the check, amongst the young working class.

The print essentially became the uniform of the “chav.”

Note: In America, brand popularity amongst the working-class may be seen as helpful when building a brand, but in Britain, such an embrace can send a boardroom into a total and complete panic.

So, when the Burberry check started to show up on bikinis and household appliances all over the United Kingdom, Bailey was sought out, with the hopes of regaining control over the brand.

But how did Burberry ever really get to this point?

1856 – At the age of 21, Thomas Burberry starts his company.

But it isn’t until Burberry launches water-resistant trench coats, twenty years later, that the brand becomes a household name.

1891 – Burberry arrives in London’s West End at 30 Haymarket and to open up shop.

Burberry quickly becomes a trusted brand, leading their coats to become standard issue for officers during World War I.

This is where the term “trench coat” came to be.

Prior to the term, these types of coats are known as “Tielocken.”

And prior to Burberry’s evolution into a luxury brand, they are primarily known for outdoor apparel.

1920s – Burberry sees it’s next brand breakthrough: the iconic check.

The check is a Scottish tartan design which includes a beige base and black, red, and white accents.

At first, the check design was only sewn into coats. It actually takes 40+ years for the design to become a fashion statement of its own.

The History Behind Burberry's Check

1967 – The Burberry scarf is created.

The manager of Burberry’s Paris store looks to add some color to the display of trenchcoats and decides to show off the check pattern by simply exposing the lining of the coat.

And as it turns out, the customers love the look.

This then leads to the store creating checked umbrellas, which sells out immediately.

With that success in mind, checked cashmere scarves are born.

These creations allow for immediate popularity amongst the British elite, making Burberry’s check the new status symbol.

Late 1970s and 1980sThe “Sloane Ranger” style is born – a style referred to a set of hip, upper-crust Londoners who live in and around Chelsea (near Sloane Square).

The most famous Sloane of them all?

Diana, Princess of Wales.

And while Sloanes are typically known to come from money, Sloanes are noted not to be flashy or ostentatious.

The Sloane Ranger style is more traditional and consists of “quiet luxury” items like Gucci shoes, Hermes scarves, and Burberry scarves.

The style becomes very popular among the upper class, especially with the release of the Sloane Ranger Handbook in the early ‘80s.

1990s – The rise of the Burberry check among the working class.

And while the brand isn’t totally thrilled about its newfound working class popularity, they embrace it to some extent.

The Kate Moss Burberry campaign in 2000, features an entire wedding party outfitted in the Burberry check – therefore, a once luxury and prestige brand slowly becomes a cultural staple.

So, this is why Bailey is brought on.

2002 – a now-famous photo of British soap opera star Daniella Westbrook in full Burberry check and pushing a Burberry stroller — sends the British media into a frenzy.

This photo truly defines Burberry’s working-class moment.

The Guardian noted:

“But, there is one image in the history of Burberry that sticks in the mind, with the same lingering cloy as a half-sucked toffee: a picture of the actress Daniella Westbrook clad top to toe in Burberry check: the hat, the skirt, the scarf, her baby dressed up to match, as if she had gorged herself upon it, rolled about in it like a pig in muck. It looked like the end of the much heralded Burberry revival: the Burberry check had become the ultimate symbol of nouveau rich naff.”

So as the upper class begins to ditch the label, high-end retail stores stop stocking it.

But international sales skyrocket.

2004 – UK sales total to 15 percent of Burberry’s income.

With that, the brand decides to go where the money is and over-licenses the check print for various products. This amplifies the British working class interest.

Also, within this time, both UK and Eastern European soccer fans gain major interest in the brand, earning the nickname “Burberry Lads.”

With that, Bailey works with executive Angela Ahrendts to realign the brand.

The duo works to bring back numerous licenses and essentially becomes more protective of the brand. This allows the check to become exclusive again.

2011 – The check is brought back in-house and leads to huge increases in revenue – equating to about 27 percent growth.

2018 – Burberry revamps the working class moment.

While Burberry’s success has essentially tapered off in recent year, the brand overall has made a serious comeback.

And just before Bailey made his announcement to leave the brand, Burberry teamed up with Gosha Rubchinskiy, a Russian streetwear designer for the Spring/Summer 2018 collection which was meant to create pieces depicting the working class or “chav” moment.

This approach has been seen by many brands recently, as Louis Vuitton teamed up with Supreme for their Fall/Winter 2017 collection.

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