Art of the Trench coat: unexpected lessons from the luxury brand

Thanks to Eminence Grise, I recently had a look at Burberry’s Art of the Trench.

It’s a lovely, brooding site, the kind of thing you browse with the restless, deeply jaded eye of a French cafe dweller, especially if you are like me an ancient roue.

I was too jaded to do a full reconnaissance.  (Plus, my view was sometimes blocked by American tourists.  Why must they torment my city with their graceless parkas and athletic shoes?  I mean, really.)

But I noticed this much..

In the beginning, the world of fashion was inhabited by models, impossibly tall, thin, elegant and beautiful, who were shot by professional photographers and then edited and air brushed by sharp eyed editors as a result of which transformation the models became still more tall, thin, elegant and beautiful.  Our job: to look on with drooling admiration, our face pressed against plate glass, a bitter autumnal wind tugging at our unforgivably unfashionable outfits, get-ups (and parkas).

The Art of the Trench marks two departures from this world.

The website features lots of photos of people in the Burberry trench.  Most of these photographs are taken by a professional photographer but they show "real people."

The notion here is that Burberry trench is no longer one perfect idea in Plato’s cave.  Actually, thanks to it’s must-have status in the world of the officer, the spy and the detective, it always had a second life as a friend of romance and adventure.  But typically Burberry ignored this tradition, and presented the trench the way the fashion world presented most everything…for our drooling admiration, our face pressed against etc. etc.

Burberry is wrestling with Plenitude and the fragmentation of taste in our culture.  There is no longer one single perfect Trench.  It is understands that if Burberry no longer controls the Trench, that it has to share authorship with the rest of us. Burberry has in other words discovered cocreation.  And not a moment too soon.  To live in the new world, brands are no longer missiles fired into the night air.  They are now what we make them on the ground, or they are nothing much at all.

But the website here goes a step further.  They accept photos from real people.  The photos are bad.  And the people are, well, really real.  Warts and all.  And for me at least this is a step too far.  I don’t actually want to see really real people.  It turns out, shame on me, that I still want my luxury brands (and the models who bring them to me) to have a certain exalted status.  I am happy to be forgiven the long climb up Mount Olympus, but I have now discovered that I don’t really want to make that trek all the way down into the really really world.

This is just a little too authentic for me.  (And for others, I’m guessing.  You tell me.)  But then I’m an ancient roue who insists that the world, my Paris, present itself as something stage worthy and perfectly crafted.  Otherwise what’s a Paris for?   Luxury brands deliver an exaltation.  This is one of the things they do for us.  No?

Post script:

This praise for Burberry is perhaps too tame.  Seconds after finishing this post, I read Cathy Horyn’s "Reflections on a Weird Year" in the New York Times.

I’m … completely fascinated by the potential for fashion companies to really use the Web and digital technology in much more interesting and purposeful ways than they so far have. I don’t mean Facebook and Twitter and 13-year-old bloggers (isn’t she 16 yet?), but rather rethinking a brand in terms of digital and making it as important a consideration as design and print advertising, which is still what most brand managers trust. Some companies plainly “get it” (look at, but more brand chiefs need to inform themselves and make digital a top-down priority.


Anonymous.  2009.  Model Citizen.  Eminence Grise.  December 22.  here.

The Burberry Art of the Trench website here

Horyn, Cathy.  Reflections on a Weird Year.  New York Times.  December 23.  here.


Thanks to Grace Peng.

Note: this post was lost due to Network Solutions incompetence in December of last year.  I am reposted it, today, December 24, 2010.