Utilitarian Decadence: BURBERRY’s Heady Summer Fashion Celebrates Writer Bruce Chatwin

burberry1

For the Burberry Prorsum Summer 2015 show in London, chief creative and chief executive officer Christopher Bailey presented a collection inspired by the myth-making and enigmatic British writer Bruce Chatwin (1940–1989). It had dark and rich colours and gestures of both utilitarianism and decadence. Bright bucket hats recalled an archeologist’s staple in the field—Chatwin, known for his travel writing, was also an amateur archeologist—while the leather-bound notebooks the models carried seemed cartoon versions of old travelogues, and the loudly-coloured sneakers encapsulated today’s sporty quirkiness—good accents to British eccentricity. A handful of shirts printed with the covers of Chatwin’s books created an appropriate ambiguity about fashion as history or history as fashion. “The world is changing so quickly,” said Bailey after the show, “that it’s even more important to reflect on heritage.”

burberry_07Chatwin was a controversial figure in British society, for both his fictionalising of fact and for being one of the first high-profile individuals to contract HIV and die of AIDS in the country. (Although Chatwin himself, an open bisexual married to the American aristocrat Elizabeth Chanler, claimed his illness was because of a rare fungus of the bone marrow “known only among 10 Chinese peasants and the corpse of a killer whale cast up on the shores of Arabia.”) Nonetheless, Chatwin’s writing—which numbers nine books, including In Patagonia (1977) and The Songlines (1987)—is fascinatingly good, and some even say a precursor to the Internet, “a connective superhighway without boundaries,” wrote his biographer, Nicholas Shakespeare. With a lapidary and spare style, Chatwin, Shakespeare continues, told “not a half truth, but a truth and a half.”

burberry abstract_06Yet it is Chatwin’s very enhancement of truth, global presence, and often perverse fetish for design (he began his career at Sotheby’s) that make him a good reference point for fashion. Writing in 1968 to his friend Cary Welch, an American collector, Chatwin mentions that he has bought “the largest coco-de-mer I have ever seen. Beautiful and obscene. We take it to bed.” Using a lifestyle of myth and seasonal transition as armor, Chatwin also had an inability to remain happy in one place for too long. About Patmos, Greece, he wrote, “One was really ready for the Revelation. Everything that had been paradise on earth turned into the biggest bore. It happened everywhere.” In his collection, Bailey managed to dress this ardor and impatience with British legacy, while also underlining the core device of a unique writer and fashion in general: imaginative superficiality. Speaking about Chatwin, fellow author and friend Salman Rushdie says, “[he’s] the creature at the perimeter prowling around. All this fantastic entertainment and language and originality and erudition and display is a kind of hedge against letting in the truth.”

www.burberry.com

 

 

Deeper

  • TERRITORIAL SIGNALS: A portrait of TOLIA TITAEV

    For 032c Issue 35, we photographed the young Russian skateboarder and designer wearing our COSMIC WORKSHOP collection. “If I didn’t have skateboarding in my life, I have no idea what I’d be doing," he told us. "I owe all my achievements to skating.”More
  • 032c Cosmic Workshop Collection

    032c COSMIC WORKSHOP "Rock Bottom" Vest Black

    €190
    Buy Now
  • 032c Cosmic Workshop Collection

    032c Cosmic Workshop Belt

    €170
    Buy Now
  • 032c Cosmic Workshop Collection

    032c COSMIC WORKSHOP "Maria" Longsleeve Grey

    €90
    Buy Now
  • Life Exists: Theaster Gates’ Black Image Corporation

    Theaster Gates' “The Black Image Corporation” presents photographs from the holdings of Chicago’s Johnson Publishing Company, a sprawling archive that shaped “the aesthetic and cultural languages of contemporary African American identity.” Gates approached the project as a celebration and activation of the black image in Milan through photographs of women photographed by Moneta Sleet Jr. and Isaac Sutton – of black entrepreneurship and legacy-making. “Life exists” in the Johnson archive, he says, just as it exists and should be honored in other places of black creativity.More
  • FRIDA ESCOBEDO: The Era of the Starchitect is Over

    Rising Mexican architect Frida Escobedo is relentlessly inquisitive, eschewing stylistic constants in favour of an overriding preoccupation with shifting dynamics. Personal curiosity is the driving force behind her practice, which makes he an outlier in a profession dominated by extroverted personalities keen on making bold assertions. "I think it really is a generational shift," Escobedo says. "The idea of the starchitect making grand gestures with huge commissions is over."More
  • “I live a hope despite my knowing better”: James Baldwin in Conversation With Fritz J. Raddatz (1978)

    Born in Berlin in 1931, editor and writer Fritz J. Raddatz relied on food delivered by African American GIs after the death of his parents. To Baldwin he was an “anti-Nazi German who has the scars to prove it.” Debating his return to the USA after 25 years, Baldwin explores the political climate in America at the end of the 1970s in a conversation at home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence.More
  • House as Archive: James Baldwin’s Provençal Home

    For her new book, Magdalena J. Zaborowska visited the house Baldwin occupied from 1971 to 1987 “to expand his biography and explore the politics and poetics of blackness, queerness, and domesticity”. Here, she narrates her early journeys to Baldwin’s home and proposes a salve for its recent loss: a virtual presentation of Baldwin’s home and effects.More