The Burberry company officially started in 1856 when a young Thomas Burberry, formerly a draper’s apprentice, opened his own store in Basingstoke, Hampshire England. He was 21 years old. The store’s reputation for providing quality outdoor attire grew over the next several years. The year 1880 saw the company’s introduction of gabardine, a water-resistant yet breathable fabric that Burberry began incorporating into his designs. It was also around this time when the store began to be known, not simply as “Burberry,” but “Burberrys of London” (a name that can be found on some vintage items from the time). This change in designation was a result of customers from all over world referring to this increasingly popular store. In 1891, another store was opened in Haymarket, London.
The official Burberry logo was designed in 1901 and featured an equestrian knight and the Latin word “prorsum” (or “forward”). In 1911, Burberry provided coats and tents for outdoorsman Roald Amundsen’s expedition to the South Pole, and also for his expedition across the frozen tundra of Antarctica in 1914. British mountaineer George Mallory wore a Burberry gabardine jacket when climbing Mount Everest in 1924. In that same year, Burberry was commissioned by the United Kingdom War Office to design a raincoat suitable for battle, and the “trench coat” was born. First worn only by military personnel, the coats became popular with the general public in the late 1920s. The signature Burberry check design became the standard lining for the trench coat.
Christopher Bailey joined the company as creative director decades later, in 2001. In July 2002, Burberry Group plc was floated on the London Stock Exchange. By late 2005, the UK retailing group GUS had handed over its remaining interest in Burberry to its shareholders. That same year, Sanyo Shokai was the license holder in Japan for Burberry’s ready-to-wear line.
Rose Marie Bravo, Burberry’s Chief Executive, retired in 2006. During her tenure at Burberry, Bravo had been responsible for the brand’s mass market success as a result of licensing. American businesswoman Angela Ahrendts took Bravo’s place, and was named as the company’s CEO in 2006. Formerly a VP at Liz Claiborne, Ahrendts brought her exceptional business acumen over to the Burberry brand and, along with creative director Bailey, changed the brand’s “chav-like” (or ruffian-like) reputation back to a more refined status. The two executives achieved this by removing the signature Burberry check pattern from 90% of the company’s products. They also bought out the Spanish franchise worth 20% of group revenues. These and other decisions were made as a result of a business approach modeled after iconic design brands that included Apple Inc. In 2014, Christopher Bailey took Ahrendts’ place as Burberry’s CEO and Chief Creative Officer.
The success of the Burberry brand is further underlined by the fact that Queen Elizabeth II and the Prince of Wales granted Royal Warrants to the company, an honor that remains in effect despite closure of the Burberry factory in Wales. The company’s viability is shown in its listing on the London Stock Exchange, as well as its place as a constituent in the FTSE 100 Index. Ranked 73rd in Interbrand’s “Best Global Brands” list in 2014, Burberry has proven to be one of the world’s most lucrative brands. The company has stores and franchises across the globe, and also sells through concessions in third-party stores.
As one of Britain’s most famous fashion houses, Burberry continues to distribute outerwear, accessories, fragrances, sunglasses and cosmetics. The tartan pattern that characterizes the brand is one of the most frequently copied trademarks. The brand’s iconic designs include the famous Burberry handbags, which often sport the brand’s distinctive check-mark pattern. Celebrities who wear Burberry include Victoria Beckham, Kate Bosworth, Sandra Bullock, Naomi Campbell, Alexa Chung, Anna Kendrick, Jennifer Lawrence, and Michelle Williams.