Birthplace: Dorking, Surrey, England
When Thomas Burberry opened his drapery business, T. Burberry and Sons, in 1856, he could not have fathomed the impact he would have on men's outerwear and clothing in general. In the 1870s he invented gabardine, a revolutionary fabric which rain could not penetrate, yet was cool and wrinkle resistant. This fabric became invaluable for sportswear as active leisure pursuits became popular in the 1890s. Burberry's gabardine trenchcoat, made for the British military during World War I, evolved into a timeless style worn by civilian men and women for the remainder of the century.
By 1891 Thomas Burberry had established a wholesale business in London. He named his coat made from gabardine the "Gabardinee," but the term never stuck. Devotees, such as Edward VII, called it "The Burberry," and that name was registered as a trademark in 1909. The tan, red, and black plaid used in Burberry garments is trademarked as well. In 1910 Burberry expanded into women's wear and opened a Paris branch.
Activewear like the "Walking Burberry," a smock with raglan sleeves, became the specialty of the business. Hunters and fishermen welcomed the protective yet comfortable clothing. The coats became essential to drivers who needed protection from wind and dust in their open-air cars during the early days of motoring. South Pole explorers Ernest Shackleton, Roald Amundsen, and Robert Scott wore Burberry's overalls and used his gabardine for their tents.
Despite the popularity of Burberry's activewear, the trenchcoat would be the company's legacy. From its introduction during World War I, the functional and stylish coat attained popular acclaim. Stars have appeared in films such as Today We Live (1933), Patton (1970), Kramer vs. Kramer (1979), and Wall Street (1987) wearing the distinctive coat. The classic style has changed little since its introduction.
Until the 1990s, Burberry's image remained tied to the trenchcoat. The company had been purchased by a British mail-order business, Great Universal Stores (GUS). The company expanded into international markets, but GUS allowed each country to expand the brand as it chose. Italy fabricated men's suits, Switzerland made watches, and Korea produced whiskey. Even Great Britain marketed a line of Burberry's Fine Foods including biscuits, marmalade, preserves, chutney, and tea complete with plaid lids. Because each country developed the brand differently, it did not have a cohesive image.
In 1997 Rose Marie Bravo, Burberry's chief executive, and Roberto Men-ichetti, the design director, began revamping the company. First, they changed the name to Burberry. Then they modernized the look of the clothing while retaining its classic British character. While coats remained the main emphasis of the company, Burberry upgraded its line of men's suits, put more focus on its women's wear, and launched a golf collection. The company entered into licensing agreements with Cluett Designer Group for dress shirts; Hart, Schaffner & Marx for clothing; Franco Fratelli for belts; Grosse for jewelry; Olmetto for neckwear; and Safilo for sunglasses. In addition, Burberry produced Thomas Burberry, a line for young men and women from 1988 to 1997.
Also, the company looked to expand its retail presence. It opened its first U.S. store in 1978, and by 1997 it had twenty-five shops in the United States and more than fifty stores worldwide. In the late 1990s, Burberry's planned to open in-store shops, a move that would coordinate with its effort to cultivate a designer image. The company did not expect to see the success of its image overhaul until 2002.
Was this article helpful?
Rock your personality in a dress you made yourself that reflects who you are, not what a department store thinks you want. Discover The Beginners Guide to Making Your Own Dress. You do not have to wear off the rack dresses any longer. You can make your own fashion statement on the world.