Daniel Lee's Burberry Isn't Classic — It's Cutting-Edge

New chief creative officer Daniel Lee is singlehandedly steering the good ship Burberry in his own direction. Fall/Winter 2023, Lee’s debut Burberry collection, isn’t for the faint of heart or brand traditionalists but it is indicative of the British luxury brand’s bold new future, for better or worse.

Anyone who saw Lee’s debut Burberry campaign — complete with throwback logo — and expected that his FW23 collection would comprise tasteful trenches and sophisticated suiting must have been gobsmacked when they instead witnessed Daniel Lee do Daniel Lee things.

Daniel Lee gave Burberry a shot of JWA-style whimsy and Bottega-esque modernity, a combo that sounds delightful on paper but proved a bitter pill for casual observers.

Lee’s Burberry debut includes blanket-stitched coats, enormous faux fur hats, painting-printed shirts, green leather sets, 3D plant applique, and shearling slides, much of which was rendered in Lee’s eye-popping take on Burberry plaid (XL patterns, occasionally in blue).

It’s all strikingly contemporary, with motifs borrowed from Burberry’s Great British heritage (kaftan shirts printed with ducks or English roses, Scottish argyle, tailored slacks, rubber wellies) and subsequently rendered borderline unrecognizable through contemporary, form-obscuring cuts.

Some objectively handsome pieces are obscured by the maximalist styling, presumably by intent. But those who don’t merely take Burberry Fall/Winter 2023 at face value will be rewarded with handsome items like anorak-cum-trench-coats and faux shearling-trimmed flight jackets.

Anyone who peers closer will also perceive the collection’s clear sense of dry (and very British) humor. It recalled Lee’s London Fashion Week peer JW Anderson, who sent trash bags and penis drawings down the runway the day prior.

Surely, Daniel Lee’s crocheted duck caps and “CHANGE IS INEVITABLE” T-shirts remind detractors that it’s all just clothes and shouldn’t be taken too seriously, right?

Or not: reactions to Lee’s Burberry FW23 collection channeled borderline outrage across social media.

Lee’s collection has its fans — frankly, I appreciate that the line’s wilder moments are akin to an amped up iteration of Christopher Bailey’s Burberry Prorsum (Bailey attended Lee’s Burberry debut and reportedly applauded with gusto) — but it’s also got plenty of people up in arms.

Idkkkk! I love Daniel and I love Burberry but it feels weird to not see classic English Burberry clothes… I feel like he’s applying a Vivianne Westwood move, trying to make it fresh, young, a little more casual but still with some resemblance of traditional English fashion.

— adrianwhoriel (@soyhijodemiapa) February 21, 2023

“This runway was an absolute disaster,” one commenter moaned on Burberry’s Instagram. “Elegance is dead,” sobbed another.

This feels like the misstep Hedi made in his first season at Celine. He then went into the archives and created a 70s inspired collection that sold like hotcakes. I hope Daniel goes back to the archives for the next collection bc this was not good.

— Heather Clawson (@habituallychic) February 21, 2023

On Highsnobiety’s IG post, which was pretty optimistic about Lee’s line, comments accused writer Tayler Willson of being a paid Burberry shill, as if someone couldn’t simply enjoy a collection without being compensated to say so (that being said, if anyone at Burberry is willing to pay for positive press, HMU! [editor’s note: this is obviously a joke]).

Perhaps the reaction is derived from lingering wariness surrounding previous creative director Riccardo Tisci’s Burberry line, which now looks positively pedestrian in comparison to Lee’s work.

Thing is, I genuinely do like Daniel Lee’s Burberry debut. It’s a little messy, with more ideas than curation, but plenty fun.

Evocative stylistic codes have bled over to Burberry from Lee’s work at Bottega Veneta, like the all-over-patterned sweaters, boilersuit-inspired layers, quarter-zip pullovers, baggy pants, and chunky statement shoes, but the styling is even more indulgently aggro than Lee’s end-era BV looks (XXXL feathers, anyone?).

And we all loved Lee’s Bottega, so much so that #NewBottega became the it-hashtag of 2019.

Why is Burberry so different?

Certainly, the kitchen sink styling isn’t for anyone craving tradition and there’s an even serving of wildly inventive statement pieces and more approachable staples that’ll keep consumers on their toes.

One consistent complaint that observers levied at Lee’s Burberry debut: “Bring back the classics!” If anything, Lee seems hellbent on providing literally anything but the classics.

And why not? There are plenty of safe, minimalist brands out there. Does Burberry really need to go back to basics to remain relevant?

Daniel Lee’s about to find out.

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