150-year old Burberry is one of the oldest brands around. It became famous for its invention of the gabardine waterproof raincoat and for providing kit to officers in the British armed forces during World War I.
Later in the century it was worn by Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Peter Sellers in The Pink Panther. In 1955, GUS (Great Universal Stores) bought Burberry and has been its full owner until 2000. The flotation of Burberry brought the company back to its roots as an independent.
Burberry itself became burdened by its conservative image and, in 1998, by the recession in Asia which had proved a sales stronghold.
Bravo took control of a brand image that was stale. Burberry had a predominantly male customer base. Furthermore, the GUS group was reliant on licensees over whom it had little control and distribution was haphazard. In central London Burberry was sold in more than 60 stores, but the luxury brand was absent in Selfridges, Harvey Nichols or Harrods.
By the end of 1998, Burberry and its latest ranges were being lauded by the fashion press, Burberry had found its niche between some of the broadly distributed apparel companies and the pure luxury brands, with the brand being British brand as an unexpected plus.
Bravo’s transformation of Burberry’s image has been remarkable, including the opening of landmark stores in Milan, New York, Knightsbridge, Barcelona and Beijing.
It resulted in a spectacular revival of the brand. In 2000 the likes of footballer David Beckham, it-girl Tamara Beckwith and ex-Spice Girl Victoria Adams Beckham made the brand even more fashionable.
Ahrendts joined Burberry from Liz Claiborne Inc., one of the leading apparel companies in the US, where she was responsible for women’s wear and men’s wear brands including Ellen Tracy, Juicy Couture, DKNY Jeans and Lucky Brand.
Will Ahrendts be able to rebuild Burberry as a niche and exclusive brand in a mass market? Will she be able to maintain the profit level that Bravo set?
Bravo wove her magic combining product diversification, cross-marketing and media blitz.
It will be interesting to see how Ahrendts will try to make both customers and stock holders happy.