Daniel Lee: What Does He Spell for Burberry?
Oftentimes, creative directors are concerned with leaving an illustrious legacy with their respective positions. Aptly described by some as an “iconic chapter” in a house’s extensive history, many have toiled to ensure their tenures represent a thriving era of a fashion’s house enduring lifetime; to be fondly remembered as a saga marked by success and character.
Daniel Lee: British fashion designer and now Burberry’s latest creative director, taking the helm as creative director to entwine his vision into reality. Previously, this mastermind found himself pushing the envelope at Italian luxury brand, Bottega Veneta, during his employment as the brand’s creative director in July 2018. He lent a fresh perspective to its handbag designs, including its proprietary ‘intrecciato’ weave, spurring the creation of the bespoke Cassette Bag and the Pouch bag which were massive hits amongst the fashion crowd. Lee is also responsible for inventing a new brand staple called ‘Bottega Green’, a playful and lightish hue of the colour, to serve as a visually distinct motif that would become synonymous with the brand (much like Tiffany and Co.’s distinct light blue), wisely releasing the aforementioned bag designs with the colour.
Proficiency in creative design aside, Daniel Lee’s successful changes to Bottega’s marketing strategy have carved a more conspicuous image to the public of his brilliant mind. As creative director, the powers accorded to him are nothing short of complete control over the brand’s presentation. Taking advantage of such power, Daniel Lee went to work, differentiating how the brand distributed information to the public concerning future products. Bottega Veneta’s socials had been wiped clean from the face of the internet on 6th January 2021, along with its creative directors’. Strategy renewed, the brand created and issued out a digital journal, its contents being spread to the general public through affiliates, clients and fan-controlled promotional accounts. Though it posed the risk of being lost in the mainstream periphery, it actually prodded the curiosity of internet denizens – intrigued by its surreptitious tactics – to seek out more information regarding its projects.
Furthermore, the routine fashion show found itself replaced by private shows known as salons with only a select-few journalists and media celebrities invited. The newly established exclusivity left the unfortunate majority with unsated curiosity, relying on the lucky minority to bestow information on an experience the former were unable to experience firsthand. A move to create a scarcity of quality information, motivating those determined to relinquish the vice grip of intrigue from their senses to seek out information on Bottega’s ventures, driving more traffic to the company as a whole. In short, a commercial success on Bottega’s part, owing to the ingenuity of Daniel Lee.
Astronomical success followed many of Daniel Lee’s decisions. His refined tastemaking and crystalline understanding of both online and offline social mores were indispensable assets to Bottega Veneta. Both of these attributes put Bottega Veneta back into the spotlight of the fashion world. Hence, it would come as no surprise when Daniel Lee was awarded with 4 accolades during the 2019 Fashion Awards, an annual ceremony held in the United Kingdom to honour the achievements of both British and international brands as well as their designers. Accessories Designer, Womenswear Designer, Designer and Brand of the Year awards were earned by Daniel Lee during the prestigious event.
He seemed to be the consummate creative director. Stalwart vision, precise execution and trend-setting ideas that thrust the company’s success into new heights. For that reason, many saw his departure from the company as terse and completely unforeseen. On the 10th of November in 2021, the fashion house announced the end of their collaboration with the British designer, purporting mutual agreement to the decision. Rumours spread from disagreements to better offers at competing brands, neither ever confirmed. His leave from Bottega did not herald a sharp vicissitude for Daniel Lee, however, as he joined with British fashion house, Burberry.
The British fashion mogul was headed by Riccardo Tisci, an Italian fashion designer, whilst Lee was making strides with Bottega. Fresh off a 17 year tenure under Tomas Maier, Burberry introduced Tisci into the fray of their creative process in 2018. Obviously, not wishing to retread the same ground, Tisci went to work, rebranding Burberry – hiring legendary British artist Peter Saville to reimagine Burberry’s logo to exude more contemporary sartorial virtues. Hence, during Tisci’s run as creative director, Burberry identified itself with a monogram containing Thomas Burberry’s initials, T and B, in orange and white respectively, layered over a honeyed background. The logo was used to appeal to a more modern, younger demographic, a change which seeped into their clothing that took on a streetwear aesthetic, very much unlike the dignified and luxury collections that came during the Bailey era before.
After taking the reins from Tisci, Daniel Lee made sweeping changes to the fashion house. Similarly to his exploits at Bottega, Burberry saw its socials receive a mass deletion of information and promotions of past ventures under Lee’s authority. In contrast to Bottega, however, their accounts were kept running. A sort of a fresh and new start, unlike Bottega’s complete repudiation of their slate. On February 6th, all of its socials posted their ostensibly first picture, showcasing a model with the newly rebranded logo, The ‘Equestrian Knight’, forthrightly signifying a shift in creative direction.
Tracing back to its creation in 1901, the ‘Equestrian Knight’ carries magnitudinal meaning for Burberry. Replacing the contemporary monogram and featuring an eponymous visual, the logo showcases the knight wielding a banner with the words ‘Prorsum’ -meaning ‘forward’- inscribed, symbolic of Burberry’s new ideals and virtues which now focused on progress. This was meant to be indicative of Burberry’s return to form, embracing tradition and returning to their roots. Thomas Burberry, who founded the company taking the namesake of his surname in 1856, fashioned clothing that could adequately protect British citizens from the country’s fierce weather. He was also credited for the invention of waterproof material gabardine, a mix of fabrics which gave his clothing the much needed insulation to fend off frigid squalls.
As quoted in Vogue’s article of the newly-appointed creative head of Burberry, As the conversation turns to the actual fashion, Lee leans in. “Think about the trench coat—it’s been around for decades. So what is the bag that can stand the test of time like that trench coat? What is the shoe? What is the overcoat that lives legitimately next to the trench and will be around for a very long time? We’re thinking about the feeling of the outdoors,”
Daniel Lee seems to envision his chronicles at Burberry to characterise the brand’s initial virtues of practical fashion, coutures useful for circumstance and turbulent weather whilst retaining a level of opulence instead of the ornate and the ostentatious. His vision is visible in Burberry’s changes, but so is his respect for its history and legacy. Born in Bradford, Yorkshire, Lee’s personal connection to the brand remains steadfast. His home lies in proximity to Castleford and Keighley, where the trench coats and gabardine for the fashion house are manufactured respectively. It stands to reason that Lee would have taken sharp intrigue in both places’ historical significance to Burberry, all the more piqued by his nativity.
Deeply entwined with British culture and possessing great reverence for the brand’s work, it seemed like Burberry had picked a flawless successor. If his work at Bottega was indicative of anything, it proved that Lee’s nigh-peerless acumen could culminate into a vogue product. With qualities apropos, the Daniel Lee spearheaded Fall/Winter collection garnered much anticipation when it was announced for the 20th of February. Held during British Fashion Week, many were hopeful that amongst a host of glitz and glamour, Burberry would stand out with Lee’s promises of classical and practical pieces, betoken of magisterial luxury.
The Fall/Winter Collection: Apertures Of a Vision
Burberry exploded onto the fashion scene once more when February 20th rolled around, doling out a vast wardrobe of chic, modern attire. Mottled with muted colours of purple, red and black whilst featuring strikingly bold bright hues of yellow, the collection exhibits a level of juxtaposition. The softer colours dote on the furtiveness of the younger fashionable demographic, exuding a desire to remain beyond the spotlight yet remaining besuited and vaguely modish. Contrastingly, the brighter colours venerate the limelight, encouraging bombast and confidence nearing the outskirts of conceit.
Intrinsically spun within the colours, however, lies a brilliant mix of fabrics, revealing Burberry’s past contributions to the fashion industry whilst preening itself in modern flamboyant splendour. Shearling-lined outerwear, oversized trench coats with faux-fur lapels and aran and argyle patterns donned sleekly by coats and shirts alike. Casual yet varying footwear draws from the brand’s past track record of functionality, ranging from heritage-inspired equestrian boots to rubber-rain boots. Enlarged sneakers, signature square shaped framed sandals, mules and pumps accompanied with shearling and faux-fur.
In spite of such technical considerations to retain that classic Burberry vibe, the inclusion of oddball pieces thrown into the fray of the fashion show left people with a sense of dissonance. Experimentation can differ in extent. As any brand worth their salt would do, each collection would contain a smattering – if not a majority – of pieces that would leave an impression on the audiences, both positive and negative. However, the avant-garde pieces seemed to destroy the preconceived notions of Burberry’s ‘return’ to formula.
The consensus of a good contingent of the public hovered over the idea of ‘quaint’ high-fashion, along the lines of Burberry’s penchant for the sleek and the elegant. Though it’s most apparent that being rustic is a rarity in today’s trends, there remained a yearning to see Burberry lean back into the graceful antiquity of yesteryear that Tisci dismissed in favour of attracting the streetwear demographic. Aside from our avian examples above, a slew of other pieces in the collection deviated from the expectations of the public, a subversion that received mixed reactions from the denizens of the internet.
By no means is Lee’s Fall/Winter collection bad, but it was predicated on the extremity of public belief. The return of the ‘Prorsum’ logo made it ostensible that Daniel Lee was going to embrace an older sense of fashion. To what degree, however, was left murky. Seasoned patrons of Burberry had their fill of Tisci’s complete change of the brand’s direction and wanted to return to an era of Bailey-esque fashion once more. Many were also excited to see Lee’s tact in tackling a more practical luxury style of dressing given his abstract work for Bottega. Frankly, the reception is a product of circumstance. People were likely jaded or disappointed and wanted to see something fresh, be it a revisiting of heritage over newfangled experimentation. Or perhaps anticipation for a showing of a rising star’s versatility in the fashion industry.
As it stands, the main problem now lies within the nebulous future of Burberry’s subsequent collections. Daniel Lee’s subversion has left many fans scratching their heads and some irate, previously keen and confident in his ability to meet expectations. It is Lee’s first fashion display with Burberry, and I would think it rash to determine his vision confidently with only one collection to his name. It’s clear his aptitude for designing is polished given his success with Bottega, but his tastes there were a tad more experimental than the antique sartorial undertaking he’s apparently committed himself to at Burberry. It could be that Lee is still learning to fully master the hallmarks of Burberry’s historical works, honing it and expressing it more skillfully in future showings. However, that is purely speculation. This mash of both contemporary and cardinal virtues of Burberry’s design could just as likely be intentional on his part. Whatever the case may be, it’s unfeasible to believe that his vision could please everyone. I, for one, have faith in Daniel Lee’s endeavours. Future projects should solidify his vision, giving the public a tangible understanding of what he aims to do. If made clear, one can hope that he triumphs in appealing to his intended audience.
For now, let’s interpret this beginning as a tumultuous start and save our judgement once we have a clearer perception of Lee’s canvas. Who knows? He might replicate that triumph at Bottega Veneta and bring prosperity to Burberry yet.