Burberry takes a walk on the wild side

SYLVIA HUI Associated Press Published:

LONDON (AP) -- Burberry Prorsum has taken its classic trench coats on safari for a makeover.

In a catwalk show that drew stars such as Kate Beckinsale and Michelle Dockery to its front row Monday, the luxury British brand updated its coats with calfskin and mink in bold leopard and giraffe prints, cinched in with glossy gold belts.

The slick runway display -- the glitziest of London Fashion Week shows -- was just the latest example of how deftly creative director Christopher Bailey combined Burberry's venerable English roots with trendy designs to produce clothes and accessories coveted by women worldwide.

Bailey said he stuck to elegant fabrics like cashmere and a classic palette of camel, oxblood, black and white for his new autumn collection, but injected contrast with new fabrics like plasticized leather.

Those certainly are not for the conservative dresser. A camel trench coat had its sleeves, gun flaps and skirt made of a brown rubber, while another trench coat is made in shiny wine-colored PVC. A tight translucent rubber skirt revealed flirty heart-print knickers underneath.

Bailey said his inspiration was "classics mixed with Christine Keeler," an English showgirl who had an affair with a Conservative minister in the 1960s.

"I quite like that idea of taking something very established and very classic, with something that's a little bit naughty and sexy," he told The Associated Press after the show.

Python-printed leather joined the various big cat prints on skirts and jackets, and gold hardware was prominent in the collection. A suede coat was splashed all over with pieces of gold metal in a leopard pattern, while leather skirts, tops and bags were studded with numerous metal eyelets and short leather tassels.

For those looking for a subtler style that still makes an impact, there were satin dresses and separates in wide horizontal block stripes of navy and burgundy or bronze and black.

Models wore low kitten wedges, which seemed to divide opinion among the high-heel wearing fashion pack.

Backstage there was nothing but praise for the designer, who was surrounded by his front row guests, including model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, actress Freida Pinto and musician Tinie Tempah.

Bailey has made a point of introducing digital and mobile technology to Burberry in the past few years, and his catwalks are now set up with cameras that live-stream the show to the brand's many online channels like Twitter and Facebook to fans worldwide.

The latest runway collections are available to buy right away from its website, and this season the fashion house pushed it further by marketing customized versions of the latest designs.

Customers can order their favorite bag or coat from the runway to come with a gold nameplate, and the service even comes with an embedded chip that can show videos of the customization process.

It's all a very different story compared to the days when Thomas Burberry first began making functional outerwear in the 1850s.

Enthusiastic as Bailey is about harnessing technology to his business' advantage, he said people would always enjoy attending a physical -- not virtual -- fashion show.

"It's just another vehicle," he said. "Technology gives you another way of talking to audiences and communities around the world that love what we love: fashion and music and entertainment."

So will fashion weeks one day become obsolete? "Never," he said resolutely.

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Sylvia Hui can be reached at http://twitter.com/sylviahui