BURBERRY OF LONDON | GABARDINE’S CLASSIC CHECK(ERED) PAST

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burberry advertisement 1908burberry trenchcoat

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Undoubtedly one of the most recognizable plaids in the world, the Burberry check, formally known as the Haymarket Check or Burberry Classic Check, was first introduced in 1924, and used in the lining of Burberry’s iconic trench coats– but there’s a lot more than the check to the Burberry story.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of visiting London with the designer Jeffrey Banks, who (along with Doria De La Chapelle) wrote TARTAN Romancing the Plaid. While there, we visited the Burberry headquarters and were given a tour of their archives and in-house museum– which included Burberry coats owned by the Queen and exact replicas of garments they had made for Shackleton, who led the legendary 1914 expedition to cross Antarctica.  The Burberry company history is simply amazing.  Their many contributions to fabric & garment innovation that hugely benefited exploration endeavors and war-time efforts alike are mostly unknown to a lot of us, and deserve to be heralded.

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burberry check plaidBurberry Trench

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From the book–

In 1879 when Thomas Burberry invented a weatherproof cloth that could breathe and keep its cool under the most inclement conditions, he created the foundation of a business that went on to serve men everywhere, from the trenches of World War I to the windswept polar regions of Antarctica.  Burberry fashioned a popular coat– called “the gabardine” after the fabric he had patented– which later became known by the name of its maker when King Edward VII got into the habit of saying “Give me my Burberry.”

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burberry trench coatburberry print ad trench coat

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Thomas Burberry opened his first shop in Basingstoke, Hampshire, in 1856 to outfit the local gentry in functional gear for sport.  So, when his company was commissioned by the British War Office to adapt its earlier officer’s coat for combat in the trenches, functional coats were just a few alterations away.  For example, D-rings were added to the belts to secure satchels holding grenades, maps, and flasks, and epaulettes help straps for satchels, binoculars, and gas masks.  This style set the template for what would become one of the (most iconic) design classics of all time: the trench coat.

In 1924, not long after the war and with absolutely no fanfare, Burberry added its trademark check fabric in the now-famous camel, black, red, and white pattern to line the trench coat.  In a case of typical British understatement, the check remained there, barely noticed, for the next fifty years.

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burberry trenchburberry vintage

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Meanwhile, the Thomas burberry company grew and prospered, catering to the leisure classes of the “smart set” of the 1920s and 1930s with outfits for golf, grouse shooting, trout fishing, riding, cycling, tennis,archery, skiing, and motorcycling, many of which were were designed for both men and women.

When World War II broke out, Burberry produced weatherproofs for all divisions of the services.  After the war, when a more urban style emerged, Burberry was at the vanguard.  During the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, their trench coats became Hollywood legends along with the stars who wore them:  Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca (1942), Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961), and Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther films…

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casablancapeter sellers pink panther

audrey hepburn breakfast at tiffany's

audrey hepburn breakfast at tiffany's

audrey hepburn breakfast at tiffany's

audrey hepburn breakfast at tiffany's

audrey hepburn breakfast at tiffany's

TARTAN Romancing the Plaid

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  1. Pingback: THE TRENCH COAT MAFIA | ICONIC OUTERWEAR THAT’S ALWAYS IN STYLE « The Selvedge Yard

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