Burberry: With Bailey out, will Philo come in?
Tuesday’s sudden, well-guarded and ultimately surprising announcement that Christopher Bailey will quit his job as creative director at Burberry next spring has already ignited intense speculation about his successor. And within minutes after news broke that he was leaving, a firm favorite was already installed – Phoebe Philo.
Her appointment would reunite her with Marco Gobbetti, the CEO of Burberry, who was previously chief executive at Paris-based Céline, where Philo has been creative director for nine years, though working from a London studio.
Officially, Gobbetti will begin his search for a successor to Bailey this week. Gobbetti only joined Burberry in July 2017, though he was on “gardening leave” for 12 months, prevented from joining the UK label until the terms of his Céline contract. Meaning the Italian executive had plenty of time to consider all the creative options at Burberry. While other observers speculated that Gobbetti might approach another Brit – Jonathan Anderson, currently enjoying huge critical acclaim at Spanish house Loewe.
Whatever happens next, Bailey leaves after a truly remarkable reign. To put things in perspective, under his guidance Burberry’s annual revenues grew to £2.778 billion in the latest financial year, or double its turnover from six years ago. Burberry is truly Britain’s only global fashion label, ranked with the likes Giorgio Armani, Chanel or Christian Dior. It dwarves other UK fashion brands, so much so its annual revenues are equal to the combined turnover of all the other British fashion labels showing on the London catwalk season.
Under Bailey, Burberry also became in industry star in digital – leading the industry’s move into social media with its British Indie band hook-ups. However, the move into See Now Buy Now has proved more problematic – crimping creativity – in a warning light to many who incorrectly predicted it would rapidly become fashion’s business model. Moreover, his most recent collection, staged in an East London courthouse as a mob of animal rights protestors chanted outside, was one of his strongest in years.
However, being the creative director of a privately held fashion house is radically different to being one for a quoted luxury brand – buffeted by quarterly earnings reports, especially in a nervous stock market like Brexit-bracing London. Bailey has always enjoyed his private life, and is far from a media hound. He married British actor Simon Woods in 2012, and they have two young daughters, increasingly splitting their time between London and a country villa in Umbria.
Speculation has mounted that Bailey, 46, was gently eased out of Burberry. However, in a private email to the author of this story, Bailey wrote: "As you can imagine, after 17 years, it was a really difficult decision but I’m excited to try new things and to pursue new creative projects."
Moreover, sources at Burberry insist that his decision to leave was his own.
“It is literally what is says. After 17 years – a pretty long time in any job – Christopher wants to try something different, and is actually really looking ahead to the next stage,” said one source who has worked with Bailey for many years.
Bailey will take his final bow next February when he presents a joint men’s and women’s spring-summer 2018 collection during the next London runway season.
“Christopher remains excited for the future of Burberry and wants to go out in the way he has always performed at Burberry, as a consummate professional,” said the source.
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