Our understanding of gender and sexuality has come far since the S/S 00 Burberry ad campaign, both in and out of fashion. Shortly after its release, Christopher Bailey joined the company and soon rose to its helm, transforming a business that was burdened with a negative reputation of ubiquity into a go-to genteel purveyor of heritage items sought after in every corner of the luxury world. Often understated and always precise, Bailey promoted old-fashioned prestige and tradition, establishing the name as the most British of British fashion brands. But now, as Bailey departs, having spent the best part of two decades artfully wrestling the Burberry check into many comfortable and subtle iterations, he’s woven a rainbow flag through it.
Not content with simply paying his own community some lip service, Bailey has ensured proceeds of Burberry’s S/S 18 collection, called Wrapped in Love, will improve the lives of LGBTQ+ people the world over. The Albert Kennedy Trust, a youth homelessness charity for LGBTQ+ people, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association and The Trevor Project, a U.S. organisation working to prevent LGBTQ+ suicides, are all beneficiaries of sales of the rainbow-checked goods. Marrying the austere heritage of Burberry with the perceived flamboyance of the LGBTQ+ community is a first for such a big brand. But is it much of a surprise?
As more diverse queer people have risen to the fore—in part thanks to fashion and mostly thanks to social media’s democratisation of taste and influence causing fashion to play catch-up—the invisibility of different types of queer creativity has become more marked. Everything from Condé Nast’s first queer-dedicated platform, THEM, to smaller enterprises like London’s Queer Fashion Show prove there’s an appetite for more queer influence and different types of queer influence on the industry.
That said, even members of the community in the lower rungs can struggle to simply be themselves. Model Jack Guinness recently admitted that he had to remain closeted on shoots because his sexuality was somehow commercially unviable. It sounds far too similar to what Harvey Weinstein allegedly (he denies all allegations of nonconsensual sex) told Cara Delevingne in a hotel suite. To paraphrase, he didn’t want her to be perceived as “too gay” because he believed that would turn people off. But would she mind if she kissed a girl in front of him? And maybe if he joined in? Sexual abuse within the fashion industry—like any other industry—must be stamped out because if it’s bad for a prominent figure like Jack Guinness, who else is it bad for? So too must a culture where marketeers assume queer people can’t sell or don’t deserve the PR push that their straight models get. No wonder Cara used Instagram to get real with her fans, who in turn helped her command bigger shoots and more visibility.
Driven by a capitalistic need to attract audiences who respond positively to what they’re told is beautiful, fashion’s faces may never resemble the people down the local high street actually buying the clothes. But it’s still worth questioning disparities when they are present. While it’s great that certain trans women have been publicly embraced by the endorsement of fashion houses, trans men are, relatively, invisible. Can the fashion industry also explore that?
What’s ultimately so incredible about Bailey’s last hurrah is its international impact. Burberry’s physical presence in countries that still outlaw same-sex relationships or fail to enact antidiscrimination legislation will have to countenance stocking a collection replete with the LGBTQ+ rights movement’s symbol. And how many companies, looking to follow Bailey’s lead, will have to reckon with using production lines in countries where queer staff might face the death penalty for expressing their love? How many factory owners are making donations to anti-LGBTQ+ initiatives or politicians? Can fashion houses using worthiness to sell and fundraise for those worthy causes have the difficult and necessary conversations with the people who supply to them? There’s a bigger discussion to be had.
A neat bookend to Bailey’s stellar rise through Burberry could have come courtesy of a same-sex marriage shoot. Instead, the promotional video is shot by Alasdair McLellan (above) in high-fidelity, featuring young, queer people as bright and diverse as the rainbow, which comes to symbolise not just their plight but their magic. Because while LGBTQ+ people are now free to reenact everything those revellers in the 2000 campaign did, that’s only in certain places, and Bailey knows the humdrum heteronormativity of same-sex marriage is just one tiny part of a far bigger patchwork that makes up queer life in 2018.