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Burberry Knight logo

Daniel Lee’s Vision for Burberry: Modern British Luxury

Feature: Long Read
Words by Claudia Croft

Burberry is more than a fashion brand. It’s woven into the fabric of British identity, so much so that its iconic check virtually functions as an alternative Union Jack. And that’s something Daniel Lee, who took over from Riccardo Tisci as Burberry chief creative officer in 2022, understands instinctively. “Burberry is a symbol of Britishness,” says the superstar designer, who was born in Yorkshire, not far from the Keighley factory where the brand makes its famous trench coats. “That’s what sets us apart from other luxury brands.”

Female model wears seasonal green Burberry check outfit

Courtesy of Burberry

DANIEL LEE, BURBERRY CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER


"Burberry is a symbol of Britishness. That’s what sets us apart from other luxury brands"

Founded in 1856 by Thomas Burberry, the brand built its success on its innovative, weatherproof gabardine, which outfitted polar explorers, aviators and soldiers, as well as cladding tents for great expeditions. The company’s reputation for stylish practicality earned it several royal warrants and a permanent place in the wardrobes of millions, and Lee has leaned into that 168-year history, finding inspiration in the Burberry archive. Alongside introducing knight blue – a shade he found from his delving – as a vivid unifying force on everything from check to packaging, linings and labels, one of his first acts was to revive the charging Knight logo first introduced in 1901. It now gallops across everything from prints and knits to bags and belt buckles. And its ‘prorsum’ motto (Latin for ‘forwards’) resonates with the designer, who’s always had an eye on what’s next.

Lee came to the British brand after transforming Bottega Veneta into the must-wear label of the pre-pandemic era; no wardrobe was complete without his squishy leather bags, square-toed sandals or oversized trench coats. His job at Burberry is arguably more nuanced and complex. There’s more history, more culture, more customers and more expectation – all of which has supercharged his aesthetic. And his approach is symphonic, orchestrating diverse strands of culture and national identity into his new look. Archetypal symbols and motifs – from English roses, ducks and swans to a plethora of checks and a Savile Row-inspired Jacquard – have all become part of his expressive design language, which is flavoured by the modernity of London, “one of the most diverse cities in the world”.

Female model wears seasonal green Burberry check outfit

Courtesy of Burberry

Lee weaves a rich tapestry via the conventions of royal dress, the UK’s many subcultures and fashion factions, and the rebellious British art-school culture that spawned a maverick approach to style. “That’s what made me want to get into this in the first place: the creativity of Vivienne Westwood, John Galliano and Alexander McQueen that I saw as a child,” explains the Central Saint Martins alumnus. He pours that expansive sense of Britishness, loaded with symbolism, into his collections, but grounds it in clothes and accessories with a sense of practicality and purpose.

DANIEL LEE, BURBERRY CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER

"We focused on the outdoors, on the idea of things being useful and the wardrobe being functional. I wanted the collection to be extremely clear, joyful and relatable… for it to be understood by everyone"

Daniel Lee

For SS24, he evolved it further, introducing a Savile Row element, with Prince of Wales and houndstooth checks joining the house check, then supersizing, disrupting and distorting the motifs, sending them in ripples over trenches, silk dresses and shirts, suiting, car coats and denim. “We are trying to both redefine existing icons and create our own,” he explains. “I’m not sure I’d use the word ‘classic’. It’s more about drawing on archetypes from the archive and putting our own stamp on it; looking at our past and evolving.” The trench is at the heart of every Burberry collection and Lee reimagined it for the summer in stunning black leather with a faux-fur stole in printed silk as soft as a dressing gown, or with a drop-waist ‘moto’ look. “There is a very precise silhouette,” he says, “which felt new to us.” The pragmatism of his outerwear infiltrates everything at Burberry, even the softer, lighter, more fluid pieces: “We’re putting hoods and ties on chiffon dresses, poppers on silk gazar and expanding our offering of jackets and coats.” And he also added plenty of English eccentricity to the collection, from the knight-blue strawberries, which appear on Jacquard knits, to quirky high-heeled rubber clogs or sneakers with cartoonish proportions.

DANIEL LEE, BURBERRY CHIEF CREATIVE OFFICER


"I do like things that are a little playful and unusual. That’s what distinguishes a Burberry shoe from anyone else’s"

As for bags, there’s a surfeit of new favourites, from the soft and tactile folded-over Knight and the Chess bag with its rounded bottom to the Shield, which has unisex appeal. “Handbags have to be beautiful and functional to be adaptable enough to fit in with modern life,” insists Lee. “It is very important to me that all our bags are distinctive, that they stand out from everything else. I think we have done that, giving our accessories a sense of the outdoors. Our bags also have a warmth to them – they are relatable.” Those same “relatable” qualities extend to the people whom Lee has chosen to wear his designs, drafting in the best of modern, multicultural Britain to appear in his campaigns, attend his shows and carry his message to the world.

  • Wearing a printed green shirt and matching trousers, actress Rachel Weisz attends the Burberry Spring/Summer 2024 runway at London Fashion Week
  • Singer-songwriter Mabel and Arsenal footballer Bukayo Saka attend the Burberry Spring/Summer 2024 runway at London Fashion Week
  • Wearing a monochrome houndstooth hoodie and sweatpants, Saltburn actor Barry Keoghan attends the Burberry Spring/Summer 2024 runway at London Fashion Week

Reading like a list of national treasures in-waiting, Lee’s picks include footballer Bukayo Saka, Blur’s Damon Albarn, actors Rachel Weisz and Barry Keoghan, singer-songwriters King Krule and Mabel, principal of The Royal Ballet Matthew Ball, professional boxer Ramla Ali, and musicians Slew and Tems. “Their talent is our way of communicating a sense of modern Britishness and what Burberry means to the world now,” says Lee. “It always has to be about [new] ideas and usefulness… about being meaningful and having a respect for what we stand for.” Checkmate.

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