There is much to support the view that it is clothes that wear us, and not we, them; we may make them take the mould of arm or breast, but they mould our hearts, our brains, our tongues to their liking. —Virginia Woolf
An article earlier this week in Business of Fashion discusses the changes in fashion as “Fashion’s Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Everything from how material is made to how clothes are purchased and consumed is changing in ways that a decade ago would have been impossible. What we’re experiencing is a seismic shift that redefines the most basic concepts of fashion.
Burberry and its creative director, Christopher Bailey, have put themselves at the center of that change. Earlier this year Bailey announced that the label would be combining its men’s and women’s wear runway shows, shifting to a straight-to-consumer strategy, and showing current season fashion rather than next season’s, which is traditional. Any one of those changes on its own would be significant. To bring them all to bear, with much more, at the same time changes the landscape not only for Burberry but for every other British fashion label, if not the entire industry.
What Burberry announced today is that their fall presentation is based on Virginia Woolf’s 1928 gender-fluid novel Orlando. If you’ve not heard of the work don’t feel surprised. Critics has long attempted to downplay the story of gender-fluidity as they felt it was too far out of step with society. However, as gender-bending androgyny has become a major theme in both society and fashion, more people are giving the book another look. Additionally, Burberry is changing the time, place, and duration of its presentation.
About The Book
Bailey’s choice of inspiration may challenge the non-Oxford educated members of fashion society. When one thinks of Virginia Woolf, one typically thinks of her novel, Mrs. Dalloway. If one experienced Ms. Woolf’s writings, it was most likely in college and that only if one was truly attending a forward-thinking liberal arts institution. While Orlando is not unknown, it has only recently become more socially acceptable as attitudes toward gender fluidity, gender identity, lesbianism, and androgyny in general. Still, especially in the United States, Orlando is banned at more conservative-minded schools. If that doesn’t make you want to pick up a copy immediately I have to question your humanity.
Orlando is based on Woolf’s dear friend and frequent lover, Vita Sackville-West. Sackville-West frequently slipped between male and female identities, which was much more shocking in 1928 than we might think now. In fact, Woolf’s elegant telling of her friend’s life and exploits is so fantastic that censors of the time may not have even recognized much of the eroticism in the book. These are not characters who hold back on their feelings or desires. In a word, this book is hot.
We tend to see Orlando now as a must-read for women’s studies. Woolf champions not mere gender fluidity or bisexuality but a complete separation of gender from identity. In Orlando, we find a character that is neither male nor female, but both and either at the same time. Gender does not define personality nor characteristics. Everything is fluid and dependent upon the needs and desires of the current situation.
About The Fashion
There shall be ruffles. Lots and lots of ruffles. Orlando covers a 400-year time period, which is rather unusual for a biography. This gives Bailey plenty of room to play with the history of British fashion, however, and adapt it to serve his own needs. Will we be able to tell the difference between men’s and women’s wear? Does it really matter? Expect there to be an emphasis upon the androgynous aspects and plenty of sets that could reasonably be worn by either gender. Certainly, the gender of the model at the presentation is not indicative of for whom the garment is meant.
Burberry has already announced that they will be introducing a new bag, The Bridle, for both men and women. The bag emphasises equestrian and outdoor themes that are also likely to be found in several of the clothing styles. Equestrian themes are not uncommon among British fashion and the utilization of those characteristics is almost inherently gender neutral.
Burberry’s overcoats have long been without gender specification, at least from a practical standpoint. While there might have been some minor tailoring differences between men’s and women’s coats, they’ve always been practically insignificant and more than one chap has complained about a girlfriend absconding with his favorite Burberry trench. To a large degree, Burberry is well positioned to take on this shift in fashion and style.
About The Presentation
What may shock Burberry fans the most is that they’ve given up their afternoon showtime. This fall’s show, scheduled for September 19, doesn’t start until 7:30 PM London time (2:30 PM EDT in the US). What that time change might mean for local traffic I can only imagine. Getting to the Burberry show on time has always been a challenge with many guests arriving two or more hours in advance to avoid traffic congestion. The late time puts the show at odds with London traffic, so the typical 30-minute delay might stretch several minutes longer.
The Burberry show is also abandoning its traditional Hyde Park location for a place called Makers House in London’s Soho district. In addition to the presentation on the 19th, Markers House is open September 21-27 to showcase the works of the craftspeople involved in helping create the Burberry collection. Ceramicists; potters; leather, textile and jewelry designers; woodworkers; silversmiths, and illustrators are all part of the week-long presentation.
Then, to top everything off, the company plans to unveil a consumer app later in September to help make those instant as-you-see-them purchases easier. The impact of this development alone has the potential to send shockwaves throughout the industry if it is successful.
There is a lot going on with Burberry’s Virginia Woolf collection this fall. Perhaps this is the beginning of separating gender from fashion and fashion from seasons. Everything is different from this poinforwardrd. I’m sure this is just the beginning.