There is little more characteristically British than, at the merest hint of sunshine, rushing to the beach to de-robe and soak in the rays. It’s a quirk of the national psyche that Riccardo Tisci has pinned down pat – it was the anchor for his Spring/Summer 2023 Burberry show, inspired by the notion of “goths on the beach” – the former, of course, being a descriptor often attached to Tisci’s work. So, in a warehouse in south London, to the accompaniment of a full string orchestra and the award-winning American soprano Nadine Sierra, Tisci unfolded a Burberry show that married gothic aesthetics to body consciousness, exploring a tension between those opposing poles.
You could argue, of course, that Burberry at the beach makes sense – its signature gabardine is the colour of wet sand, after all, and as Tisci himself stated, the summertime counterpart to the Burberry check scarf is a cross-hatched bikini that, in the last 30 years or so, became just as ubiquitous in the summer months. There are wider ideas and goals, though. “In summer, in Britain, the beach is a place of democracy, of community. It is where people from all cultures can join together in simple pleasures,” says Tisci. “I wanted to translate that ideology – that emotion – to an entire collection. I wanted to express that spirit of togetherness and joy.”
Plurality has been a feature of Tisci’s Burberry collections – gentlemen and ladies, punks and princesses walk his catwalks side-by-side, just as they’d walk the city’s streets. Their numbers here were punctuated with queens of British fashion - Naomi Campbell, Erin O’Connor and Karen Elson all walked for spring, wearing Tisci’s takes on everything from trenches (chopped and reconfigured, sometimes sunburned like pale British limbs left unprotected too long) to slithery lingerie. Covered-up silhouettes saw underwear laid on top, like kinks and fetishes bubbling to the surface of a Victorian psyche. And, of course, said psyche was dressed like school ma’am, albeit in slinky fishnet.
There was a consciousness of the body throughout – explicit in cut-out swimwear detailing integrated into evening dresses, subtler in all-over lady bodystockings smothering limbs in colour and pattern. Tisci talked about his experience in London clubs, at the riotous enthusiasm of young London in celebrating their bodies – especially post-Covid, when contact was verboten and so much nightlife stifled. “I was inspired by the liberation and openness of youth, of people embracing their bodies and revealing them,” Tisci said. “A pride in themselves, who they are, their identities.”
There was a pride in Burberry’s identity here too, celebrating its trademark check and trenches, its mounted knight logo of yore, its elevation of function and purpose to high style. Tisci even cast the valves of inflatable lifejackets and water-wings in silver as jewellery; while a series of velvet evening gowns were pumped with air, as if crossed with life-rafts. A trio, in black, formed a respectable finale, underscoring the final day of official court mourning following the death of Queen Elizabeth II (Burberry is, after all, a royal warrant holder). And, indeed, Tisci wanted his Burberry to echo with the sound of the moment – the doors of the warehouse were left wide open and, in a moment of silence at the start and end of the show, the space was alive with the sounds of the life of the city it calls home.