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Burberry’s Daniel Lee makes his big debut at London Fashion Week

<i>Henry Nicholls/Reuters</i><br/>Models present creations at the Burberry catwalk show during London Fashion Week Monday
Henry Nicholls/Reuters
Models present creations at the Burberry catwalk show during London Fashion Week Monday

Fiona Sinclair Scott, CNN

Designer Daniel Lee made his debut as Burberry’s new chief creative officer on Monday night inside a packed, purpose-built venue under the shadow of London’s Oval stadium — the home of cricket, a quintessentially British sport. Other classic hallmarks of Brand Britain came early on, in the form of dreary weather-battling hot water bottles and thick blankets on each seat. Hot toddies were also served to guests before the show.

The highly-anticipated event, attended by VIPs including Naomi Campbell, Bianca Jagger, Skepta and Anna Wintour, marked a homecoming for the boy from Bradford, West Yorkshire, who previously held the top creative role at Italian label Bottega Veneta.

Speaking to press backstage, Lee said he wanted to “celebrate what’s great about the country.”

“What’s unique about London and why I’m so happy to be back here is I’m so inspired all the time. When you walk down the street you see people from so many different walks of life living together and that’s something that I’ve missed.”

And it was apparently with this spirit that Lee created his first collection for the brand. His new vision for Burberry is not a return to traditional British sartorial cues — the beige trench was almost entirely MIA — but rather an attempt to push the label forward into an edgier space.

English mustard yellow, deep purples and reds and injections of royal blue formed the base color palette for a collection that featured bomber jackets and pleated, tartan-inspired kilts styled over trousers. One could imagine the late priestess of punk Vivienne Westwood, for whom the London Fashion Week was dedicated, giving the show a thumbs up.

But for this debut to be a true win, Burberry is going to need more widespread approval.

Its new CEO Jonathan Akeroyd has already made his ambitions clear, widely touting his goal of growing the British fashion house — and one of the last remaining independent luxury labels — into a £5 billion ($6 billion) megabrand.

Lee’s appointment is a key pillar of this strategy, with Akeroyd presumably banking on the designer’s transformative and commercially-successful impact on Bottega Veneta as well as his impressive CV, which includes stints at Maison Margiela, Balenciaga, Donna Karan and Céline.

At Bottega, Lee made a strong mark with his modern approach to classic leather goods, in particular the Pouch clutch — a celebrity favorite — and the Cassette bag.

On Monday, a first glimpse of accessories on the runway revealed a playful and extensive array of shoes and bags, many adorned with faux fur. Chunky work boots and rubber rain shoes, alongside slouchy suede knee-highs were just some of the footwear options Lee laid out for the coming Fall-Winter season. The bags ranged from furry, oversized shapes to more classic leather saddle designs embellished with a simple lowercase “b” emblem.

Checked blankets were thrown over models’ shoulders and paired with cozy, classically British Aran jumpers. The English rose motif made several appearances though not, as one T-shirt reminded us, in its traditional form.

Long-sleeved tees with “the rose is not always red,” and “winds of change” signaled literal change, according to Lee. “Change for me, change for the brand,” he reiterated.

While the economic fallout from Brexit, a ropey handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and the slew of leadership changes of late have not painted a particularly cool picture of Britain to the world, Lee seemed determined to remind onlookers that the Isles have something more to give.

“There is great music here, great theater, great art. I want to shine a light on those things and show a positive side of Britain to the world.”

Top image: Models file out for the finale at Burberry’s Fall-Winter 2023 show.

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