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Burberry’s new designer mixes no-frills show and streetwear drop

For his first collection at Burberry Group Plc, creative director Riccardo Tisci traded star-studded front rows for another sort of hype: the streetwear-inspired "drop."

[PARIS] For his first collection at Burberry Group Plc, creative director Riccardo Tisci traded star-studded front rows for another sort of hype: the streetwear-inspired "drop."

Tisci opted for an austere presentation in his debut for the British luxury brand, a dramatic change for the former Givenchy designer, whose celebrity clients included Kim Kardashian and Madonna. No A-listers, no parties, just journalists, fashion buyers and the designer's friends and family convened in a London warehouse space to view a collection that spanned everything from office wear to slogan-coated street looks to evening gowns.

"He wanted it really to be about the clothes," Chief Financial Officer Julie Brown said.

The hype was alive and well, however, at a Burberry store in central London, where a selection of products from the collection was released for 24 hours only. Black logo sweatshirts priced at 450 pounds (S$811) sold out by evening. Teddy bear-shaped handbags with mismatched eyes and crystal choker necklaces found willing buyers.

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Chief Executive Officer Marco Gobbetti, who arrived last year from LVMH's Celine, turned to Tisci for a creative shot in the arm, replacing designer Christopher Bailey after his upmarket push lost momentum. Sales rose 3 per cent in the first quarter, while the industry as a whole is expected to grow between 6 and 8 per cent this year, according to a study by Bain and Italian trade group Altagamma. The company's shares were up 0.3 percent in early London trading Tuesday.

Givenchy's Growth

During a 12-year tenure at Givenchy, Tisci expanded that brand from fewer than 10 stores to around 70. On the red carpet, his elaborate couture creations blurred the line between evening gown and lingerie. On store shelves, he spearheaded the fusion of luxury fashion with the casual, logo-heavy codes of athletic brands like Nike.

While the Burberry show's tone was reserved, Tisci has already demonstrated his ability to generate buzz. Months before his first designs went to market, the designer was teasing fans by designing bespoke costumes for Beyonce. Since revealing his new monogram for the brand last month, the company has plastered the orange-and-white print over double-decker trams in Hong Kong, a building in Seoul and a giant inflatable teddy bear in New York. Another drop of US$400 logo T-shirts and sweatshirts went on sale on Instagram and China's WeChat last week.

One member of the Kardashian clan did make it into Tisci's debut as model Kendall Jenner strutted the runway in a camel trench coat that got a punk-rock twist from gold ring piping that looked like hundreds of body-piercings.

"It's such a new vision for a heritage brand," said Elizabeth von der Goltz, global buying director for luxury e-commerce site Net-a-Porter. "He's brought a youthfulness to it. There was something for everyone from dresses and beautiful tailoring to relaxed easy streetwear."

Tisci's approach is aimed at making Burberry top-of-mind again among luxury shoppers who've moved on from Bailey's looks that blended British heritage with preppy sheen. Despite the previous designer's effort to boost its exclusivity, the brand is stuck in an awkward middle ground -- its US$240 polo shirts and US$300 scarves too pricey for typical mall shoppers, but not luxurious enough to lure customers from the likes of Kering SA's Gucci or Chanel.

Streetwear Brands

After growing into multibillion-dollar brands with stores around the world, the biggest names in luxury are racing to put scarcity back in the equation, using limited releases inspired by streetwear brands like Supreme.

At its London drop, Burberry's store didn't garner the around-the-block lines that are a regular occurrence at that Generation Z favorite. But there were a few new clients who wouldn't have considered the brand just a day before.

"I came because it's Tisci," said Kai Ryu, a business student at London College of Fashion who had just picked up a T-shirt. "I never bought something from Burberry before."