Burberry held its first ever virtual fashion show, and fans were very confused

Burberry is known for always being at the cutting edge when it comes to embracing new technologies, so when the famed British brand announced it would be staging a virtual show for the first time, fans were excited to find out what was in store.

Broadcast live on the Burberry website and on streaming platform Twitch, it showcased the spring/summer 2021 collection and marked the start of London Fashion Week, which runs until September 22.

A collaboration between Burberry chief creative officer Riccardo Tisci and German visual artist Anne Imhof, it was certainly a memorable start – but not necessarily for all the right reasons. Here’s what happened at the highly-anticipated show…

The set

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>(Burberry/PA)</figcaption>
(Burberry/PA)

The show opened in what looked like a cross between a row of changing rooms and a fairground maze of mirrors. Four different camera angles showed four underwear-clad models getting into their first looks, before exiting into a misty, leafy forest, presumably somewhere in the great British countryside.

There wasn’t a catwalk as such, just a path that snaked between the tall trees and led to a big round clearing with a stage on one side, and scaffolding around the edge.

The tweeting of birds faded away and dramatic electric guitar music rang out, performed by a long-haired rocker on stage, then out of the forest emerged a model in a long beige trench coat with denim detailing, flanked by three men in black suits and sunglasses. Were they meant to be her bodyguards? That was the first of many questions we had…

Elsewhere, a pair of models in white T-shirts and joggers sat languidly on a raised platform, occasionally shooting a moody glance at the camera, while others perched ominously on the scaffolding.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>(Burberry/PA)</figcaption>
(Burberry/PA)

The performance

The show had the feel of a secret festival in the woods – one with a very small and impeccably dressed audience, that is.

Many of the models were trailed through the forest by the men in suits, who proceeded to gather on stage surrounding the singer while the models lined up on the other side of the circular space.

The guys lazing around in white climbed down from their lofty perches and started doing some kind of slow interpretive dance in the middle of the circle. At one point, someone let off an orange smoke flare. The whole thing lasted half an hour, which is a long time when you consider most fashion shows are over within 10 minutes.

<figcaption class='imgFCap'>(Burberry/PA)</figcaption>
(Burberry/PA)

The clothes

If you were a Burberry superfan looking to compile a shopping list off the back of this show, honestly, you would struggle. Often it felt like the clothing was secondary to the performance, and the dancers obscured the models half the time.

What we could see was an eclectic mix that ranged from preppy sportswear (polo shirts, hoodies, baggy shorts) for the boys, to glam thigh-high boots and shimmering silver dresses for the girls.

There was a focus on outerwear, as you would expect, with the house’s classic trench coats reimagined in patchworked styles; and elements of nature were reflected in forest green coats and abstract prints, while flashes of tangerine orange and petrol blue added much-needed brightness.

The reaction

It’s fair to say reactions to the show were mixed. While some praised the ‘Midsommar realness’ (referencing the unsettling horror movie set in Sweden), others said it was more engaging being able to switch between camera angles on Twitch, and a lot of people seemed to find the performance element confusing.

‘Do they think this is art?’ asked one person on Twitch. ‘What’s going on?’ commented another. Others wanted to see more of the clothes. ‘This is the most bizarre show I have ever seen,’ one viewer wrote.

It doesn’t look like this show will be sparking a stampede for a must-have Burberry bag any time soon (although we think those super-high boots will prove popular come spring), but that evidently wasn’t the point.

“For this show, I wanted to celebrate… by bringing our community together in a creative experience that takes place within the beautiful, natural landscape of Britain,” Tisci said ahead of the event, and that’s ultimately what he achieved. This wasn’t about commerce, it was about creativity.