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Thursday, May 28, 2009

Q&A: Christopher Bailey

Given his fantastically glamourous job as Burberry's creative director, you might think Christopher Bailey is the type to have glitzy million-dollar condos stretching from Rio to Goa and keep a staff of well-pressed butlers, chauffeurs and vase-dusters. But no. The real Christopher Bailey, with his tousled red hair and generous smile, is a Bob-Dylan-listening, sloppy-sofa-relaxing country boy, as he told me just hours before hosting the star-studded christening of the new Burberry headquarters in New York. Which, apparently, is just part of the job...

Lee Carter: The Burberry tartan is one of the most famous trademarks in the world. What are your own trademarks, passions and fetishes?
Christopher Bailey: One of my biggest things is that I love the countryside. People don't usually associate that with a fashion designer, but it's something that's really important or me. I was brought up in the countryside. I love gardening and spending time in agricultural surroundings.

How very British of you. You're almost as British as Madonna. Do you have horses, too?
I do have horses in my field. That probably makes me a big fat cliché.

More like a thin cliché. You're quite thin.
Well, I'd like to be, but I'm drinking too much.

Welcome to the club! Burberry is such a quintessentially British brand. Are you an Anglophile?
I've never considered myself an Anglophile. I've lived all over the world. I've lived in New York, Munich, Paris, Milan for a long time. Now I'm back in the UK, which is kind of weird. I do love my roots. I do love England and its diversity, but I also love being in other cities. I'd get claustrophobic in one place. Today we're in Manhattan, tomorrow I'm in London, Saturday in Yorkshire...

What's in Yorkshire?
That's where I live. I have a home there, a little cottage.

It must be a very sweet cottage.
It is a very sweet cottage. It's also very old, from 1633. It's an old farmhouse, surrounded by fields and cows and horses.

I bet you've done it up very nicely.
Actually I just finished a huge renovation. I hope it's nice. It's very simple. I love it.

What's your taste when it comes to interiors?
I don't like things when they feel too prissy or untouchable. If you're going to have a sofa then it should be a big sloppy sofa. I like a bit of grime and dirt as well. I don't like things too spotless and perfect. The same with clothes. I want clothes to feel like you own them, not like they own you. They should be a little disheveled and broken down.

Like they have stories to tell.
Yes, exactly. I love stories and poetry.

Do you really like poetry?
I don't love poetry. [Laughs.] We have something on English TV at the moment. They're trying to promote poetry in the UK, so I'm going to start reading poetry. I think I haven't been patient enough in the past.

I know music, too, is one of your interests. And I hear you discovered One Night Only, the band that's playing at tonight's launch...
I wouldn't say I discovered them. I would love to say that. I guess I found them before they hit.

What does music mean to you and how does it play into your work?
Music is so important. I love so many different types of music, from classical to one of my favorite artists, Bob Dylan. I love Joni Mitchell, the Stones, punk, the Pistols.

I'd love to see a punk-inspired Burberry collection. What would that look like?
I'm always a little influenced by punk anyway. But I like it when you discover that it's influenced by punk rather than wearing safety pins all over.

Not that you've never done that.
Not that I've never done that.

What's the most outrageous thing you've ever worn?
I was never crazy, but I did dye my hair blue. That's not so wild.

A lot of designers pretend like they lead normal lives, but it's rarely true. What's a typical weekend like for you?
I spend a lot of time in my studio working on a gazillion things, from fragrances to new buildings to designing furniture, and of course all the collections. But I also have my life outside the office, though I'm not a party person. I like to celebrate but I prefer intimacy to big parties, so I will usually go out for dinner or cook for friends and family. I spent last weekend with my family. We just cooked, read the newspapers, drank too much.

Let's talk about the new New York headquarters. It's a huge undertaking.
Yes, a labor of love. It's slightly smaller than our new London global headquarters. We designed it with the same plans, same layout, same furniture. But we do not have the big Burberry sign in London.

Neon just feels so New York.
Exactly. It's one of only six grandfathered buildings in New York where you can do that, so it's a big deal for us to be able to affect the iconic Manhattan skyline, which I love. And everyone here has a great can-do attitude. You guys are always glass half-full, whereas maybe in the UK we're a bit glass half-empty. There's always such camaraderie in New York. It's a pleasure being here.

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