Tech Meets Tradition: Burberry and Attention to Digital and Material Detail

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Filed under: Canright Inspirations, Graphic Design

Tech Meets Tradition: Burberry and Attention to Digital and Material Detail

We work a lot on paying attention to details in our company. Is what we’ve written accurate? Has the final copy been proofed? Do the message and design reflect the brand? Every detail matters in the business of communications—every detail reflects on us and our customer.

I got a good lesson in attention to digital and material details at a reception for members of the Executives’ Club of Chicago (Canright client) this past week. In this case, the material part also meant “fabric,” as the event was held at the new Burberry flagship store in Chicago.

At the store, tradition meets high-tech and social media. It was so exciting to see a brand that had previously been perceived as stuffy, now anything but. A fashion innovator. And in the space of just a few short years. Associates were friendly and more down-to-earth than I expected, proudly describing details of the clothing—down to the stitching—the store, and the way associates communicate with associates at the other stores around the globe.

I’ve been interested in textiles and their history for a long time and noticed the contemporary cut, color, and feel of the fabric is very different than the company’s traditional fashion look and feel but in keeping with its innovative past. Thomas Burberry was, after all, the inventor of gabardine fabric—and designer of the company’s signature product, the trench coat, first submitted as a design for an army officer’s raincoat to the United Kingdom War Office in 1901. In 1914, Burberry was commissioned by the War Office to adapt its officer’s coat to suit the conditions of contemporary warfare, resulting in the “trench coat”. Its adoption by the fashion world and the cinema is, as they say, history.

Walking into the Burberry store that night, I was struck with the variety of products—purses, shoes, perfumes, jackets, men’s suits, children’s clothes, and of course, the “trenches,” as they call them. Colors and fabrics that show how CEO Angela Ahrendts and her creative director, Christopher Bailey, have reinvented and reinvigorated the brand over the past several years.

The reinvention of the brand is apparent when you see the new Chicago store, on Michigan Avenue at Ontario, with its plaid-embossed chrome-plated exterior and ceiling-to-floor banners in the front windows. Inside, the exterior banners are reinforced by a ceiling-to-floor “digital content display” on the third floor.

“It’s that balance between the physical and virtual worlds that Burberry—and every other retailer—is working overtime to figure out. The pundits keep telling us we’ve entered a brave new Amazon world where on-line retailing is king and bricks-and-mortar a lingering anachronism. The unceasing crowds on Michigan Avenue would suggest otherwise,” wrote architecture critic and blogger Lynn Becker in “Tartan check-mate: Burberry’s Reinvigorates the Mag Mile,” a thoughtful piece on the new store’s design and its relationship to Chicago and Michigan Ave. retail architecture past and present.

The tech blog Mashable covered the store’s digital details, in a piece on the December 2012 grand opening, including a link to the “Art of the Trench” campaign video, which features Chicagoans wearing Burberry. “How we use technology was going to be our greatest differentiator,” Ahrendts told Crain’s Chicago Business.

Growth numbers from back in 2006 provided the digital impetus. As other luxury brands turned in 12-13% growth, Burberry lagged at 1-2%, as detailed in “Burberry’s Digital Transformation,” a Capgemini Consulting interview with Ahrendts. Judging by the most recent results, the effort has been a success, with Burberry generating strong third-quarter 2012 revenue increases of 9% in total revenue and 13% in retail revenue.

The Chicago store is Burberry’s second largest in North America, and will be the first to host Burberry Bespoke trench coats. Shoppers can collaborate with store associates to design their own trench coat via iPads, which many of the store’s sales associates carry.