Burberry comes to Leeds: The fascinating story of a very British brand

editorial image
0
Have your say

The arrival of fashion house Burberry's new offices is fantastic news for the city's business community

The distinctive Burberry check pattern has made this quintessentially British brand recognisable all over the world - but few of its patrons know the role the company has played in British life at pivotal moments in our history.

Burberry began life as an outdoor clothing manufacturer

It was set up in 1856 by draper's apprentice Thomas Burberry when he was just 21. His first store was in Hampshire, and in 1879 he wrote his name into textile history by inventing a waterproof, breathable fabric called gabardine. It became popular with army officers, although the classic trench coat, later to become iconic, was originally known by the less catchy moniker of the Tielocken. The name changed after it was worn in the trenches of World War One. Burberry opened a shop in London's Haymarket in 1891.

Burberry kitted out expeditions to the Poles

The brand's advanced technology led to it being chosen as official outfitter to two major expeditions of the 20th century - Roald Amundsen's attempt to reach the South Pole in 1911 and Ernest Shackleton's assault on Antarctica in 1914. In 1924, mountaineer George Mallory wore a Burberry coat while trying to conquer Mount Everest.

Burberry is now in Leeds

Burberry is now in Leeds

Burberry sponsored a record-breaking flight

In 1937, aviators A E Clouston and Betty Kirby-Green broke the world record for the fastest flight from London to Cape Town in a Burberry-sponsored plane while wearing the brand's specialist aviation clothing.

Burberry played a vital role in trench warfare

The trench coat was an essential garment for British officers and was adapted for military needs. It was only after the war that it was adopted by civilians, and the check was introduced to its lining in the 1920s.

Burberry had big-name backers

His patrons included Lord Kitchener, the Secretary of State for War who appeared in a famous World War One recruiting poster, and Lord Baden-Powell, who founded the Scout movement. Both military men, they agreed to wear his waterproof clothing in the field.

Burberry survived a 'chav' onslaught

Its post-war success in the high fashion world was jeopardised from 2001-2005, when copies of the brand's famous check were sold cheaply around the world. They subsequently became associated with 'chav' and football hooligan culture. Bars and clubs were even known to ban Burberry prints as part of their dress codes. In later years, the company has overhauled its image and returned to the glamour and elegance of its past.

Burberry is the subject of a beautiful short film

This 2016 Christmas advert, The Tale of Thomas Burberry, features Hollywood stars portraying some of the key players in the brand's history. Domhnall Gleeson is Burberry himself, Sienna Miller plays his wife, and Lily James is pilot Betty Kirby-Green. Dominic West even has a cameo as Shackleton. The short film covers events such as the Antarctic expedition and the London - Cape Town flight, yet it is also playfully implied that Burberry had an affair with Kirby-Green.

Read more: Burberry arrives in Leeds and brings 400 jobs

The Captain played by Mark Gatiss, the current Doctor Who played by Peter Capaldi and the first Doctor played by David Bradley. PIC: PA

Doctor Who fans to get preview screening of Capaldi’s last outing as Time Lord