Makers House is located in Soho in the former home of Foyle’s bookstore. (The building is now facing demolition to make way for luxury flats). For one week, Burberry has transformed the venue into a cafe, showroom and events space to celebrate the launch of its new collection – the first to be made available to consumers immediately after its debut on the runway.
Burberry creative chief Christopher Bailey says the collection was heavily inspired by Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando – text in which the protagonist’s gender changes midway through. He was also inspired by the work of Nancy Lancaster, an interior designer best known for running decorating firm Colefax and Fowler and restoring stately home Ditchley Park in the 1930s. Many of the pieces in the collection are unisex and reference Lancaster’s love of rich colours and floral patterns.
These influences have also shaped the design of Makers House: the building’s courtyard is filled with busts and sculptures and a large mural resembling the facade of Ditchley Park. Inside, a grand staircase is draped in a green patterned carpet, its design based on a ceiling tile from a house Lancaster had decorated.
The building is home to a different group of makers each day – from silversmiths to bookbinders and saddlers – who can be seen practising their craft and talking to visitors. Sculptor Thomas Merrett has been crafting a human form from clay throughout the week while artist Rose de Berman has been silk screen printing. Mayfair store The New Craftsmen – which sells work by UK-based makers – has set up a pop-up shop selling homeware, vintage books and accessories.
The ground floor space is as much a celebration of Burberry’s heritage as it is of making: the company’s archivist is on hand to tell little-known stories about its past, such as its history of making coats for pioneering aviators. A trench coat from the 1920s is on display alongside vintage fabric and a black-and-white film showing the company’s products being made at a factory.
The building also offers a fascinating insight into how a new season collection takes shape: on one wall is a giant mood board covered in fabric swatches, photographs of Lancaster’s work and stills from the film adaptation of Orlando alongside sketches by Bailey. The collection is housed upstairs in a room that was also used to host its London Fashion Week presentation – walls have been painted dusky pink and guests can take a seat on patterned benches made for press and front row guests or wander among the mannequins.
The event marks the first time that Burberry has released its collection during Fashion Week. It typically takes up to six months for clothes to hit stores after runway shows but Burberry – along with many other brands – is doing away with this long lead time in favour of a ‘straight-to-consumer’ approach.
It’s a radical change for the brand – one that affects everything from publicity schedules to supply chains – which perhaps explains why this shift hasn’t happened sooner.
In almost every aspect of our lives, we are able to get what we want on demand. We can stream entire TV series on Netflix rather than watching weekly instalments, have clothes or furniture or groceries delivered to us within an hour or instantly summon an Uber from our smartphone. But when it comes to fashion, luxury brands continue to make consumers wait months for the products it promotes in magazines and on runways.
In an interview with US magazine Women’s Wear Daily, Bailey explained his thinking behind this shift: “We can’t expect a consumer to understand out timings because, I mean, it’s silly…. You can’t talk to a customer and say, ‘We’re really excited, we’re going to stimulate you and inspire you [with a collection], but you can’t touch it or feel it for another six months. In fashion we talk about ‘a moment,’ and what feels right for the moment. And I’ve always battled with that because the moment is when you’re showing it, but then you’ve got to kind of say is it the right moment five or six months down the line?” he said.
Bailey also told the magazine that he felt it was time for the brand to change its ways to suit the consumer. But other brands remain opposed to the see-now buy-now model. Francois-Henri Pinault – CEO of the company which owns Gucci – released a statement earlier this year announcing that the fashion house would not be following suit, arguing that it “negates the dream of luxury”. Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld, meanwhile, described the process as “chaos” and “a mess.”
The debate over see-now buy-now represents a wider shift in fashion – a growing divide between the brands who are embracing a more democratic era and those who are keen to hold on to established industry traditions. Fashion shows themselves were once only for fashion insiders – editors and buyers and influencers – but now, they are streamed online for anyone on Instagram or Twitter or their website to see. And with increasingly global audiences, brands are under increasing pressure to cater for multiple seasons at the same time.
Luxury fashion has always been built on exclusivity – selling clothes that are hand crafted by experts, built to last and so beautiful they are worth waiting for. See-now buy-now culture is more commonly associated with lower-end goods – but it affects high-end clothing too. Thanks to social media, trends are no longer dictated by runway shows and magazines – they can come and go in half the time it takes a runway collection to hit stores – and no matter how beautiful your brocade jacket, people might be coveting something else entirely in six months time.
Burberry’s decision to break with tradition is a bold one and one that attracted much controversy when it was announced. But with the brand facing a decline in profit, it makes sense to try something new.
Makers House is also a very democratic way to showcase the brand’s new collection: pieces are not confined to expensive stores that many would feel too intimidated to visit, but put on display in an exhibition-style space that is open to all. The space feels surprisingly welcoming: upstairs, there are dozens of people taking selfies and posing with the new collection.
The project also aims to appeal not just to fashion fans but anyone with an interest in craftsmanship and making. Burberry has long demonstrated a commitment to British craft – its trench coats are still made in Britain and the company had planned to invest in a new factory in Leeds before Brexit, creating 1000 jobs (a project that has since been put on hold) – so the tie in with The New Craftsmen during London Design Festival seems a natural fit for the brand.
Makers House is a lovely space and – if the crowds on a Wednesday afternoon are anything to go by – one that is proving popular not just with fashion’s in-crowd but with a wider audience interested in design and craft.
Makers House is open from 21 to 27 September. It is open from 10am until 6pm on 23 and from 10am until 7pm from 24 to 27. For details and a schedule of events see burberry.com