Here We Are: Burberry show explores “the British way of life”

Burberry’s September collection is displayed alongside documentary photographs by Martin Parr, Ken Russell, Dafydd Jones, Shirley Baker, Alasdair McLellan and Karen Knorr in an exhibition at a former courthouse in Clerkenwell

Burberry has long positioned itself as a brand synonymous with Great Britain. To celebrate London Fashion Week, it has curated an exhibition of photographs by some of the UK’s finest documentary photographers in a grand Grade II-listed building in Clerkenwell.

Here We Are spans three floors of the Old Sessions House and aims to reflect the diversity of modern Britain with images documenting various communities, traditions and subcultures.

Karen Knorr’s photographs of Belgravia capture a wealthy community in the early years of Thatcher’s reign while Charlie Phillips’ work documents Notting Hill in the 1960s – an era of race riots, street parties and the early days of Carnival. Dafydd Jones’s images from the 1980s show Cambridge and Oxford students celebrating their summer balls while Peter Marlow’s shots of the Queen’s Jubilee show crowds huddled under makeshift raincoats while waiting to catch a glimpse of the monarch. Other series on display include Brian Griffin’s unusual portraits of British businessmen and images of suburban architecture and domestic interiors.

Burberry President and Chief Creative Officer Christopher Bailey says he wanted the exhibition to capture the diversity of Britain: “When we started thinking about curating ‘Here We Are’, I knew I wanted it to celebrate a certain strand of British photography that I have always loved – one which documents the many and varied tribes and clans and classes that make up this island of ours. It has been an extraordinary privilege to gather together this collection of photographs, that have influenced me so much over the years. They provide a portrait of British life, in all its nuances, both exceptional and mundane, beautiful and harsh.”

The images provided a source of inspiration for Bailey when designing the brand’s September collection: “It’s the spirit of those photographs – sometimes ironic, sometimes tender, always truthful – that has guided our September collection. Together they will form an exhibition in our new show space, celebrating a very British way of life and way of dressing,” he says.

The exhibition was curated by Bailey and Lucy Moore, a writer and director of fashion and photography bookshop Claire de Rouen. It was co-curated by renowned fashion photographer Alasdair McLellan, who has also directed videos for the XX.

McLellan has 70 photographs in the exhibition including portraits of young men and teenagers taken in Northern Ireland, England and Wales. He has also shot a new portfolio of black-and-white images for Burberry. Some of these are documented on Burberry’s Instagram feed and include an image of Glenda Jackson, 16-year-old Scotland and Chelsea footballer Billy Gilmour and model Agyness Dean in front of rolling hills and waterfalls in Yorkshire.

The Old Sessions House is a grand Palladian venue with marble columns, vast chandeliers and a dome modelled on the Pantheon in Rome. The building has been undergoing refurbishment – there are plans to turn it into a dining and events space with restaurants, bakeries and a bar in a former Judges’ dining room on the top floor but for now it remains unfinished with exposed walls and floorboards.

Burberry’s September collection is displayed on mannequins throughout the space. The collection was unveiled at a London Fashion Week presentation last weekend and was made available to buy immediately afterwards.

Director Danny Sangra posted images of the show adorned with doodles in a Snapchat takeover and you can watch the presentation in full on Burberry’s website. (Sangra has also created a series of illustrations for Burberry using vintage photographs and the brand’s trademark check to mark the collection’s launch.)

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The exhibition is Burberry’s third pop-up event since it moved to a ‘see now, buy now model’ last year (making runway collections available immediately after Fashion Week shows, instead of several months later).

In February last year, it launched Makers House: a week-long fashion and craft pop-up in a former bookshop in Soho. Clothes were displayed alongside sketches and swatches showing Bailey’s creative process and demonstrations from British sculptors, book binders and silversmiths.

In September, Makers House returned for a second event: dramatic capes made from lace, plywood and feather were showcased alongside sculptures and drawings from Sir Henry Moore in an industrial space with exposed concrete walls.

The latest pop-up is less focused on craft and making and more on British culture but like Makers’ House, it offers the public a chance to glimpse Burberry’s collection in a dramatic setting filled with character.

The venue will host a series of talks and performances throughout the exhibition’s two-week run. Photographer Chris-Steele Perkins is giving a talk on his 50-year career on September 25 and Ian Macdonald will discuss his development and inspiration on September 27. Artist Martin Gayford is running a photography collage workshop with Hole & Corner magazine on September 30, and theatre company Pindrop has curated performances from actors Russell Tovey and Nathan Stewart-Jarrett. (Details on all of the events taking place can be found here.)

It’s an impressive space and an inspiring collection of work from some of the UK’s most influential photographers. At a time when Brexit has led us to question Britain’s place in the world – and what it means to be British – Here We Are reflects on Britain’s unique culture and style and reinforces Burberry’s status as an iconic British brand.