The spirit of British supermodel Stella Tennant is strongly felt in fashion. Burberry, with which Tennant was closely connected for 25 years, celebrated her life and style in their first womenswear collection since her death.
Tennant was “elegant and punk in a way that is very British, and completely authentic in a way that was her own,” said designer Riccardo Tisci in a video call before the show – broadcast on the brand’s website on Wednesday.
As well as starring in Burberry catwalk shows and advertising campaigns, Tennant served as a consultant for the brand, bringing “bits of country house detritus” including a floral bedcover stitched by her mother, as offerings to the design studio. Burberry’s tribute follows that of Chanel, another house with whom Tennant had a long association, who also paid homage to the supermodel’s personal style in a recent collection.
In this Burberry collection pencil skirts and polo necks, sleeveless shift dresses and high heels were worn with bare legs and flat-ironed hair, channelling the lean minimalism of the 1990s, the decade when Tennant rose to fame.
“She invented an era,” Tisci said. “She looked incredible but it wasn’t about being outrageous. It might be about putting a beautiful diamond brooch on a man’s suit.”
The show, filmed during the last lockdown in the understated luxe interior of the brand’s London flagship store with no audience present, had been due to be shown last week. Burberry, which holds royal warrants, as a weatherproofer and as an outfitter, postponed the show until after Prince Philip’s funeral.
Related: Stella Tennant – a life in pictures
Tisci watched the broadcast from Italy, where he was visiting his 92-year-old mother for the first time this year. The designer spoke of his admiration for his mother, who raised him and his eight sisters as a single mother. “I grew up seeing femininity as determination,” he said.
The pure womenswear focus of this collection suggests a switch in direction at Burberry, which has long championed gender fluidity. Tisci’s predecessor, Christopher Bailey, staged a catwalk show with clothes for men and women inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Orlando five years ago. Tisci insisted on Wednesday that “fluidity and not being exclusive about gender is still part of who I am,” and said his intention was not to resurrect barriers but rather to redress what he sees as a gender imbalance at the house.
“When I arrived here, most of the business was about selling to women, but the icons of the brand – the trench, the car coat, the story of Thomas Burberry – were all male. So I want to make Burberry more feminine.”
Sequined cocktail dresses and sleek clutch bags were aimed squarely at post-lockdown lifestyles, with not a sweatpant in sight. There was plenty of outerwear, the bread and butter of Burberry’s business, but these were coats aimed at nights on the town rather than walks in the park: think gold lamé trenchcoats, and white chubbies fringed with exaggerated faux-mink pelts.
Tisci is not raring to return to the industry’s pre-Covid obsession with blockbuster fashion shows. “I like that now I can show a collection when it’s ready and when the consumer is ready to see it. There is more respect for creativity, instead of everything being run on a kind of industrial schedule. I actually really like working like this. And I love that everybody watches the show the same way, on the same level, with the same access – journalists, consumers, everybody.
“My dream would be that when we go back to doing shows, we can be in an open space with everyone invited.”