After more than a year of construction, the new five-story Burberry store on Michigan Avenue opened to the public this week.
And while its black chrome facade, etched to look like Burberry plaid and illuminated with LED lights, is certainly flashy, the story behind the 156-year-old brand's recent digital reinvention is attention-grabbing, too.
The Chicago store, Burberry's second-largest U.S. location, underscores how CEO Angela Ahrendts (an Indiana native and Ball State University alum) and chief creative officer Christopher Bailey have worked together in recent years to bring the once staid, then over-exposed brand to a new level of digitally powered success.
The store, at Ontario Street, features what Burberry calls a "retail theater" concept that allows live runway shows and globally synchronized content to be broadcast via nearly floor-to-ceiling "digital walls." It also houses eight brick-and-mortar selections from Burberry Bespoke, a digital initiative that allows consumers to customize a Burberry trench coat from more than 12 million possible designs.
The first floor features leather goods, including the celeb-friendly Orchard handbag, and other accessories from eyewear and scarves to watches. It's also where to find a Burberry Beauty make-up counter and three make-up artists.
The second floor, home to Burberry's women line, features plush fitting rooms with iPhone docking stations and lighting that can be adjusted by iPad-wielding associates to better approximate day or night.
The third floor carries Burberry's trend-forward Prorsum line along with a women's shoe lounge. (The Prorsum line, according to a Wall Street Journal profile of Ms. Ahrendts, makes up "only up only 5 percent of sales but carr(ies) all of the label's fashion credibility.") A level up is the brand's more casual Brit line, plus children's and menswear. The children's section features a play table with embedded iPads, while the men's section allows customers to select between three suit silhouettes, order online and have it shipped within 48 hours.
Ms. Ahrendts arrived at Burberry in 2006; Mr. Bailey had been the brand's chief creative officer since 2001. The famed Burberry check, which had begun lining raincoats in the 1920s, was at that point splashed everywhere.
As London's Independent newspaper points out:By the mid-'70s (Burberry's) name was primarily associated with tourists in search of a souvenir of unreconstructed Englishness. The label was soon appropriated, however, by a rather different customer, the dandified casual who, in a brilliant up-yours to the class system, adopted Burberry, and the check in particular. It wasn't long, though, before over-licensing led to the check flooding the market....The check remained overexposed, on everything from court shoes to baby buggies, until Bailey arrived and pulled it right back.
As a result, the company has recently flourished financially: On Wednesday, it reported first-half profits that exceeded analyst expectations and said its new cosmetics line should boost earnings.
And for the second year in a row, Burberry has also ranked first in New York University's Digital IQ index, topping brands including Ralph Lauren, Kate Spade, Tory Burch and Coach.
Ms. Ahrendts and Mr. Bailey will be in town at the end of the month for a grand opening; stay tuned for more details from them about Burberry's Chicago plans.
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