Iconic brand Burberry may need its best-known piece, the check-lined trenchcoat, to stave off the rain in the years ahead. When the company’s new CEO Marco Gobbetti announced a risky strategy to “rationalise non-luxury wholesale and retail doors” (read: axe middle-market retailers) just one week after chief creative officer Christopher Bailey announced his departure, share prices plummeted 12% before managing a slight recovery.
Bailey, who joined Burberry in 2001, helped the brand to escape chav-dom and broaden its offering in terms of categories, price points and geography to become all things to all people — not an easy feat to pull off successfully. For three years, Bailey took on the role of CEO for the company alongside the title of chief creative officer. Facing larger commercial forces like a slowdown in the Chinese luxury market and slumping department stores in the US, that tenure was not deemed a success and Gobbetti took over as CEO in July of this year.
Sixteen years at the helm, reviews of collections becoming tired, and yet another turnover in senior management: Bailey’s upcoming departure is a surprise but not a shock. As one of the few independent luxury brands, voices constantly circulate about an acquisition or even a takeover. At the same time, a difficult retail environment in the US, and economic, social and political uncertainty around the globe do call for decisive measures.
Bringing in a fresh, new creative officer, à la Alessandro Michele at Gucci, would certainly boost Burberry. In fact, Gobbetti promised to “reshape our offer, increasing and invigorating the fashion content,” and that “communication will convey new energy.” That’s all well and good, but cutting out the affordable luxury segment of the brand’s customers and trying to upmarket positioning to super luxury is a gamble reminiscent of the one Mulberry took, and lost. Furthermore, Gobbetti’s horizon stretches too far: positive results in 2021. These days, four years is an eternity. We want some good news before that.
On November 9th, the day of the share plunge, the BBC’s Rachel Horne asked me to talk about Burberry on World News. Christopher Bailey and I worked together in our Gucci days and I hold him in the highest regard.