Burberry Panned For London Fashion Week Activations “Mocking Working Class”

Burberry Panned For London Fashion Week Activations “Mocking Working Class”

British fashion house Burberry has been panned for its London Fashion Week activations that saw it take over Norman’s Cafe in North London’s gentrified Tufnell Park and swap the signs at the Bond Street tube station to read “Burberry Street”.

The objections to Burberry Street are at once straightforward — confusing for actual commuters and travellers — and complex in a city whose finances are incredibly stretched.

Changing the names of tube stops at the whim certainly shows the power of Burberry’s brand. However, it could pose a problem for vulnerable, disabled or elderly people when getting around the Underground network. Bond Street is the intersection for two tube lines and the Elizabeth line, making it an important connection stop for commuters.

However, it could also point to the fact that London’s central coffers are very nearly empty. Last year, the city’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan, was forced into an embarrassing compromise with the central government over fares, train driver wages and more.

Transport for London, the body that manages the capital’s public transport network, said that the central government left an “unfunded gap” in its budget and had been “working hard” to find ways to fill it.

“We will need to progress with our plans to further modernise our organisation and make ourselves even more efficient, and we will still face a series of tough choices in the future, but London will move away from the managed decline of the transport network,” it said in a statement.

At present, it is unclear how much Burberry paid for the takeover.

The other activation, however, points to a particularly thorny issue for British society and Burberry alike — the working class.

Burberry’s takeover of Norman’s Cafe (pronounced ‘caff’ as opposed to ‘cafés’ by the way) makes sense. Both brands present themselves as peculiarly British. The cafe has plastic chairs screwed to the floor and turns out simple, seemingly low-rent but delicious British classics such as egg and chips.

Needless to say, the fashion and consumer press in London have lapped it up with Highsnobiety calling it “peak Britishness” and the Evening Standard calling it “the most exciting Burberry takeover”.

“It’s fitting, seen as the working-men’s-style caff is instantly recognisable from its own signature check, in the form of linoleum floors and shopfront curtains, which routinely litter the Instagram feeds of trendy Londoners,” it continued.

“Norman’s and Burberry will be uprooting the cafe and taking to the streets of London, serving traditional English breakfast foods to the hungry, fashionable masses, via a food truck.”

Except, as many social media users have pointed out, the collaboration is not fitting at all. Except, perhaps, in an ironic sense.

@sipteawithmelissa Is Burberry mocking the working class? 🤔 #popculturecommentary #popculturenewstoday #celebnews #celebritynews #workingclassproblems #workingclass #normanscafe ♬ original sound – Melissa

Burberry has had a long history of trying to distance itself from the “masses”. In the noughties, the Burberry nova check pattern became inextricably linked with the “chav” and football hooligans — two UK subcultures whose fortunes and prominence in society have ebbed and waned.

“As Britain’s foremost fashion house, Burberry had been using the nova check since the 1920s, first lining its trench coats before spawning outwards onto cashmere scarves in the 60s and eventually proliferating the brand’s ready-to-wear collections in the 80s and 90s, beloved by Sloane Rangers and the Balmoral set,” wrote Dazed magazine.

However, in the noughties, the tabloid press in the UK associated the nova check with the unemployed and disenfranchised portions of British society it felt were lazy, underserving and violent. But then the pattern went through a fashion Renaissance and Burberry even brought back the check pattern as a result.

As for Norman’s Cafe, the restaurant has been accused of cosplaying British working class culture for its overpriced dishes and its staff wearing trendy matching and branded uniforms to serve its paltry seven tables.

Perhaps, then Burberry’s collaborations with TfL and Norman’s are perfectly emblematic of the commoditisation of British culture and decline in the power of its institutions.

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