How Heritage Brands Are Making Classics Cool Again

Photo: Portia Hunt. Courtesy Pringle of Scotland
Fashion, much like anything else in the world, exists in a dichotomy. On one hand, there is a desire and thirst for youth culture; for new and unknown designer to be at the forefront of things before the rest of the world catches up. On the other, however, lies a respect and reverence for the labels and designers that have seemingly been around forever; a certain deference is paid to them. In the past few years, these two disparate characteristics have come together, resulting in a sort-of resurrection of heritage brands. You know the ones: They've typically been around since the 1800s and started off doing something really specific — say, a trench coat or fishermen sweaters — before slowly expanding and getting the full fashion makeover — complete with a buzzy new designer, celebrity fans, and cool new clothes that take the brand's heritage and update it for modern times.
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Burberry kicked this trend off in 2001, when Christopher Bailey — then a relatively unknown designer who had spent time at Gucci — was named creative director. His transformation of the brand became the stuff of legend, and since then, reviving heritage brands has become a common occurrence. 2017, though, seems to really be their moment; for example, Lyst reports a 17% increase in global searches for Burberry over the last three months, perhaps a response to the rise of the new "youth" aesthetic to the echelons of high-fashion. This new wave can be traced to Jonathan Anderson's appointment at Loewe, too, which showed you can honor tradition while still have a uniquely modern point of view. More recently, Pringle of Scotland and Mulberry have joined the ranks with cool new designers bringing a fresh perspective to the classics. Their aesthetics may all be rooted in history, but there's nothing old about the clothes and accessories they're delivering. And at a time where the fashion industry feels as tumultuous as ever, there's something to be said for keep with tradition — even if it does involved, cutting, pasting, and remixing its roots.
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Courtesy of Mulberry.
Mulberry
The youngest of the heritage brands, Mulberry was founded in 1971 and was originally known for its leather goods, particularly leather belts. The company experienced its most notable revival with designer Emma Hill, who joined in 2007 and created the It bag of 2010, the Alexa (named after Alexa Chung, of course). Things died down at the label after her departure in 2013, until last year, when it named Johnny Coca, a Spaniard with stints at Bally and Céline, to the top spot.

"Mulberry’s rich history and the love that British people have for this brand presented the perfect opportunity for me to take all of my experiences of London and my interpretations of British style and inject them into an iconic brand, " Coca tells Refinery29. "Our history of manufacturing in the UK was very appealing for me. Our two factories in Somerset, where the company was born, and where we continue to to produce over 50% of our bags, represent a commitment to the local area, and to the people who built the brand. We have families where the grandparents made some of Mulberry’s first products and now three generations later their grandchildren are making our new designs."
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Courtesy of Mulberry.
Coca has injected the house with a steady dose of cool and modernity since his first collection for fall 2016. "When I started at Mulberry, I wanted to modernize the brand while respecting its core values," he says. "I wanted to reinforce the British character and sensibility in the brand's roots. I approach every season with this in mind, and then choose a moment from my experiences and interpretation of British culture." He continued: "My first collection took inspiration from the rock and grunge side of British culture. Summer '18's moment was a garden party, where the lady would wear big hats drinking tea — drinking tea became the inspiration for the porcelain heels."
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Courtesy of Mulberry.
This season, the designer did not hold a runway show, opting instead for an intimate presentation in Paris. The lookbook images, with their grainy, surveillance feel, heightened the mysterious vibe of the clothes, and probably conveyed a particular mood better than a standard show would've. Through it, Coca's experimentations with oversized silhouettes, cut-outs, and heels with architectural details that are sure to become a must-have shoe for those in the know, became imbued with a hidden story. His clothes exude a very "off-the-moment" attitude, and the fact that the label as of now is still flying under-the-radar means the wearer stands out because they look good — not because they're wearing the brand's most Instagrammed piece.
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Courtesy of Mulberry.
Mulberry
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Courtesy of Mulberry.
Mulberry
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Photo: Portia Hunt. Courtesy of Pringle of Scotland.
Pringle of Scotland
Founded in 1815, Pringle of Scotland is one of the oldest luxury fashion brands. Originally, it produced hosiery and underwear, adding cashmere in the 1870s. Pringle is known for its gorgeous knitwear, and it's no surprise, given the fact that Clare Waight Keller, who recently replaced Riccardo Tisci as creative director at Givenchy, did a stint at the label from 2005 to 2011. Now at the helm is Fran Stringer, who, since last year, has been redefining what a sweater can be. "Pringle's heritage can seem like a burden, but because of the responsibility it actually makes it a natural process," Stringer told i-D in an interview last year. "It's not like I have to go to a gallery and find some contemporary artist to inspire me because I've got no ideas. All I need to do is look at the archive."
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Photo: Portia Hunt. Courtesy of Pringle of Scotland.
Designing for a label known for its knits means that spring collections can often be tricky; while we all love a chunky oversized sweater, once it hits May and June, we're less in need of feeling cozy. "I'm very much a realist. I spend a lot of time thinking about clothes and how people wear them and what they mean to people and how people use them as armor or to express or hide themselves," Stringer said. For spring 2018, Stringer instead focused on creating knits as light as air (often as sheer as air, too). Her clothes have an inherent sex appeal, while being appropriate for a wide range of women.
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Photo: Portia Hunt. Courtesy of Pringle of Scotland.
Pringle of Scotland
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Photo: Portia Hunt. Courtesy of Pringle of Scotland.
Pringle of Scotland
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Courtesy of Burberry.
Burberry
Christopher Bailey started it all at Burberry 16 years ago, but truth is, excitement for his collections dwindled over the last few seasons. "I feel that the world has just changed dramatically in the last three to four years," Bailey recently told Paper, "I just feel it's a moment to reassess everything again and re-look at who we are and are we doing things in the right way? How can we make sure that we're not [just sticking] with formulas, and [instead] test and pioneer and try new things?" His spring 2018 collection was certainly a reflection of that train of thought, with its reclaiming of the iconic Burberry plaid — which the brand had famously removed from its collections back in 2006 because of its appropriation by certain British subcultures — and showed why the trench coat has maintained its status all these years.
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Courtesy of Burberry.
The collection — which is available for purchase now, if you are lucky and well off — also featured chunky knitted socks, plastic separates, furry robe coats, and oversized simple white tees layered underneath delicate lace dresses. Simply put, it was magnificent. (It's no surprise Rihanna has already been spotted in a look straight from the runway).
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Courtesy of Burberry.
Burberry
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Courtesy of Burberry.
Burberry
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Courtesy of Burberry.
Burberry
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Loewe
Jonathan Anderson took over Loewe in 2015 and the label immediately became every fashion insider's favorite. Anderson's take on the famed Spanish leather goods house, which had been around since 1846, was equal parts history and ease. "I’ll never forget the day I turned up [to the factory], going into a room filled with all different leathers." Anderson recalled in a 2014 interview with Interview magazine. "I was just like, 'This is the brand I want to work for. I hope they give it to me now.' The designer has since developed a signature ease to his collections with lots of feathers and breezy silhouettes that belie the collage style the designer favors.
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“It’s like antibiotics,” Anderson said in a 2015 interview with The Guardian, when asked about the need to revive heritage brands. “After a while, they stop working. I think people have become immune to that way of doing brands. To say, ‘We made things for the royal family’ – that’s not enough any more. It’s time for something new.” For spring 2018, that newness came in a lightness that was more prominent than during previous seasons; pastel colors, shrunken tees, and easy polo dresses all felt like pieces you throw on and go without thinking much about them while immediately looking exquisitely put together. His experiments with materials yielded a slashed logo sweater that was truly the height of casual glamour.
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When he began at Loewe, Anderson said his ideal was to “take a brand that operates in a luxury environment, and make it about culture," to make it a brand that articulates the period" he is in now. And how lucky we are to be living in it too.
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Loewe
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