Burberry is styled as the quintessential British heritage brand, globally recognised and a phenomenal success in Asian markets such as Japan and China. It is also something of a phoenix, having risen from what many saw as the smouldering ashes of its appropriation by a British youth subculture in the nineties, and its latter association with WAGS. A recent article in The Economist claimed that none of this would have much cultural meaning for Asian consumers. I think that depends on how strong links are through networks of family in the UK or whether someone is a returned NRI from Britain, or how extensively someone might keep up with fashion history and the sartorial preferences of British soap stars. However, Burberry’s creative director Christopher Bailey has done such an incredible job of revamping Burberry from its checkered past (the Economist’s pun not mine), that that’s all besides the point anyway. What Burberry just excels at these days is reinventing the classic trench in a myriad of covetable ways, and doing inventive things with raffia and plaited leather. I still feel something like amazement when I look at the sophisticated mix of textures, beautiful materials and colours to be found in Burberry stores today.
The other thing that Burberry excels at these days is brand building through social media. In this vein, last Friday at the Oberoi hotel in Gurgaon, Burberry hosted a party as part of its ongoing Art of the Trench project. Large interactive screens allowed for party goers to like (as in Facebook) whilst sweeping hands (as in touch-phone mode), across the medley of individuals posing in a rainbow of Burberry trenches for Mumbai-based street fashion photographer Manou. The Hindustan times plug of the launch which included the line “street style Indian celeb images” perfectly captured the way in which Burberry has harnessed the do it yourself media aesthetic of street style photogrpahy to a celebrity fuelled advertising campaign.
It was all very fun, and through the haze of glam and champagne, there was prime celeb spotting opportunity in the form of the even-more-beautiful-in-real-life Neha Dhupia and the wonderfully pouty Jacqueline Fernandez, Dino Morea, Suneet Verma, Feroze Gujral who wore Burberry, and Subodh Gupta and a whole host of other famous people, sufficient to fill endless column inches on the page 3’s. The invite said curated by Christopher Bailey, although he wasn’t actually there, which was a little disappointing. However, Sanjay Kapoor, ED of Genesis Luxury who has the JV with Burberry India, was hosting the party, and looking the part to a tee in his Burberry Prorsum trench was the perfect host assuring his guests were replenished with copious quantities of champagne.
The idea of the Art of the Trench is grounded in personalization and experience two of the buzz words of today’s luxury industry. It’s just one way in which Burberry has harnessed the interactive and community building propensities of new social media to promote its brand.
Having just opened its seventh store in India, Burberry is one of the most prominent luxury brands to expand across this as yet nascent market.
The Asia Pacific region represented 36% of Burberry’s market as a whole in 2011/12. China, of course, forms the bulk of that; but investing in underpenetrated markets is one of Burberry’s key long term strategies, and India is seen as a market with great untapped potential.
To what extent Burberry was influenced by the idea of targeting the Indian market in making the embellished trench worn by Dhupia, well it’s fun to speculate. In reality, what consumers of Burberry in India seem most attracted to is the aura of heritage surrounding its classic trenches as well as the status laden associations of its bags.
Burberry sees India as an “exciting market” and although start up is costly in the near term (seven stores and counting), it confidently expects India to be one of the emerging markets which will contribute significantly to future profit growth.