It’s all Greek to me as I enter the Burberry Makers House venue via a heavily scented and clay sculpture-adorned corridor (reminiscent of Aesop – the fragrances, and the Greek story teller) by Thomas Merrett, scholar of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust. Thomas is one of a number of craftspeople and artists under The New Craftsmen collective, lending their talent and artistic practice in the form of live installations – they work in Makers House as members of the public look on and learn about the art of craft.
I spoke with Rose de Borman about her hand-painted silk screen prints as she worked away, blending paints inspired by a nearby pots of flowers she had collected from her garden and brought in as colour inspiration for her prints. When I asked her about the designs she said she freestyles them, and hanging behind her are examples of pieces drying before being sold in the Makers House shop. I thought perhaps Rose designed prints for Burberry, but she explains to me that she has not and that much of her work is for interiors.
I also met a trio of students from the Royal School of Needlework who were spending the weekend cross-stitching designs provided to them by Burberry. Items from the RSN Handling Collection were displayed and available to touch via gloved hands, which was an interesting addition to the passive nature of the other displays. I chatted to one of the students about her craft and asked whether fashion tech or conductive yarns, for example, are on her radar. They aren’t, as the course at RSN focusses solely on traditional craft – there are no machines, all work is done by hand – and the threads and yarns are all traditional natural materials.
When I first entered Makers House, I assumed there was a connection between the work of The New Craftsmen and the creation of the Burberry September collection. The collection, shown at London Fashion Week on Monday 19th September, is on display at Maker’s House alongside the craftspeople, but it transpires that these makers are unrelated to the making of the Burberry collection.
This is where Makers House feels more like an exercise in creating an experience by association rather than telling the story of the Burberry September collection and its relationship with craft. That’s not to say there isn’t the inclusion of craft in the collection – there is – but the beading, to my eye, could very easily be the work of Indian embroiderers. Burberry’s printed fabrics have historically been made in Italy, so unless there has been a sudden change, this collection is likely to have been printed there too. This is no bad thing, it just jars with the romanticised and earnest display of English craftsmanship accompanying the collection at Makers House.
This is also against the backdrop of Burberry recently halting plans to open a factory under the title ‘Project Artisan’ in Leeds to make their iconic trench coats. Sadly, an aura of faking rather than making is cast over this experience. Contrived mood boards of highly symbolic and literal inspiration for the collection sit alongside the makers, which adds to the feeling I can’t shake that this is all a bit forced.
I found the opportunity to get up close, walk around the clothes, feel the fabrics and see the silhouettes and layering in detail far more interesting and engaging. It is another example of a strong argument for presentation formats that allow buyers/the public to inspect and absorb the details and beauty of the clothes at their own pace, in contrast to a blistering dash on the runway. This space had a showroom feeling, with buyers replaced by members of the public. With the “see now, buy now” launch (the collection is already for sale to the public) this makes perfect sense.
Burberry has been a digital pioneer, incorporating technology into every facet of the presentation and sale of its collections for years and always leading the fashion pack – that’s why this feels somewhat like reverting to analog. Put this in the context of a London fashion week that saw the first holographic fashion presentation by Martine Jarlgaard London and Fyodor Golan’s CGI avatar model fashion presentation and it is suddenly feeling like retreat rather than innovation; not withstanding the live streaming on Facebook with chatbots on Facebook messenger to answer questions during the show itself and support online sales.
Pondering the absence of tech, I notice the longest queue in the building leading to The Studio space and after enquiring what the fuss was all about, I learn it’s the queue for the Instagram booth made famous by a number of celebrities in videos messing around amongst the aforementioned clay sculptures. The urge for social media and sharing the Makers House experience is strong, and Instagram is an extremely powerful marketing tool for Burberry. The current count of followers is 7.6 million.
Attendees of Makers House queued for Instagram photos in the same studio as the celebrities above
The current Burberry campaign featuring Burberry Artisans alongside the September collection
Whilst compiling this article I discovered via the Burberry online store that the collection is made in Italy. The mens beaded waistcoat is not for sale, so appears to be a one-off show piece. This leads me to wonder what the purpose of placing English craft next to Italian manufacturing was, if not to dupe the Makers House audience into thinking English craftsmanship and Burberry go hand in hand.