A young Kate Moss, in a Burberry slip-dress, getting married to some bloke in Burberry.
Our understanding of gender and sexuality has come far since the spring 2000 Burberry ad campaign, both in and out of fashion. Shortly after its release, Christopher Bailey, a young gay man, joined the company, and he soon rose to its helm, transforming a business that was burdened with a negative reputation of ubiquity into a go-to genteel purveyor of heritage items sought after in every corner of the luxury world. Often understated and always precise, Bailey promoted good old-fashioned prestige and tradition, establishing the name as the most British of British fashion brands. But now, as Bailey departs, having spent the best part of two decades artfully wrestling the Burberry check into many comfortable and subtle iterations, he’s woven a rainbow flag through it.
Not content with simply paying his own community some lip service, Bailey has ensured proceeds of Burberry’s spring 2018 collection, called Wrapped In Love, will improve the lives of LGBT+ people the world over. The Albert Kennedy Trust, a youth homelessness charity for LGBT+ people, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association and The Trevor Project, a US organisation working to prevent LGBT+ suicides, are all beneficiaries of sales of the rainbow-check goods. Marrying the austere heritage of Burberry with the perceived flamboyance of the LGBT+ community is a first for such a big brand. But is it much of a surprise?
Fashion has long been assumed to be a friend of Dorothy, a safe haven for camp gay men who want to spend time touching fabrics and gossiping with the girls. That may be so, and it certainly goes some way to explain the protective wall of silence around the rumours flying that certain gay male fashion workers have been sexually assaulting younger male colleagues. But as more diverse queer people have risen to the fore—in part thanks to fashion, mostly thanks to social media’s democratisation of taste and influence causing fashion to play catch-up—the invisibility of different types of queer creativity has become more marked. Everything from Condé Nast’s first queer-dedicated platform, THEM to smaller enterprises like London’s Queer Fashion Show, prove there’s an appetite for more queer influence, and different types of queer influence on an industry that’s long seen white gay men embedded.
That said, even white gay guys in the lower rungs can struggle to simply be themselves. Model Jack Guinness recently admitted that he had to remain closeted on shoots, because his sexuality was somehow commercially unviable. It sounds far too similar to what Harvey Weinstein allegedly (he denies all allegations of nonconsensual sex) told Cara Delevingne in a hotel suite. To paraphrase, she wasn’t allowed to be seen as too gay, because that’d turn people off. But would she mind if she kissed a girl in front of him? And maybe he joined in? Sexual abuse within the fashion industry—like any other industry—must be stamped out, because if it’s bad for a prominent figure such as Jack Guinness, who else is it bad for? So too must a culture where marketeers assume queer people can’t sell, or don’t deserve the PR push their straight models get. No wonder Cara used Instagram to get real with her fans, who in turn helped her command bigger shoots and more visibility.
Driven by a capitalistic need to attract audiences who respond positively to what they’re told is beautiful, fashion’s faces may never resemble the people down the local high street actually buying the clothes. But it’s still worth questioning disparities as and when they present. While it’s great that certain trans women have been publicly embraced by the endorsement of fashion houses, trans men are, relatively, invisible. Can the fashion industry explore also that?
What’s ultimately so incredible about Bailey’s last hurrah, is its international impact. Burberry’s physical presence in countries that still outlaw same-sex relationships or fail to enact anti-discrimination legislation will have to countenance stocking a collection replete with the LGBT+ rights movement’s symbol. And how many companies, looking to follow Bailey’s lead, will have to reckon with using production lines in countries where queer staff might face the death penalty for expressing their love? How many factory owners are making donations to anti-LGBT initiatives, or politicians? Can fashion houses using worthiness to sell, and fundraise for those worthy causes, have the difficult and necessary conversations with the people who supply to them? There’s a bigger discussion to be had.
A neat book-end to Bailey’s stellar rise through Burberry could have come courtesy of a same-sex marriage shoot. Instead, the promotional video is shot by Alasdair McLellan (above) in high-fidelity, featuring young, queer people, as bright and diverse as the rainbow which comes to symbolise not just their plight, but their magic. Because while LGBT+ people are now free to re-enact everything those revellers in the 2000 campaign did, that’s only in certain places, and Bailey knows the humdrum heteronormativity of same-sex marriage is just one tiny part of a far bigger patchwork that makes up queer life in 2018.