Burberry’s New Campaign Is The Holiday Blockbuster We Want To Watch

Like the elaborate window displays in Manhattan, Burberry's holiday films always hit hard with seasonal feels. Every year, the British fashion house manages to up the ante on its own shorts. Just when we thought it couldn't possibly top Elton John, Naomi Cambpell, James Corden, and Romeo Beckham doing their best Billy Elliot, Christopher Bailey went ahead and and essentially created a trailer for the fashion blockbuster we've always wanted to see in theaters after a good family dinner.
Titled The Tale of Thomas Burberry, the three-minute short reimagines key events that have shaped the brand's history and ethos, taking a few creative liberties here and there to up the ante (and make room for some seriously star-studded cameos). Domhnall Gleeson stars as Thomas Burberry, with Sienna Miller playing his fictional first love. Dominic West plays Sir Ernest Shackleton, the pioneering polar explorer who wore Burberry gabardine for three Antarctic expeditions. Lily James rounds out the cast, making an appearance as pilot Betty Dawson, a fictionalized character inspired by the real-life achievements of Betty Kirby-Green, who in 1937 broke the world flight record for a trip from England to Cape Town on a plane named "The Burberry." (The fashion house sponsored her endeavor.)
Photo: Courtesy of Burberry
Burberry is celebrating it's 160th anniversary this year — so, Bailey wanted to honor the legacy of the house's founder and his contributions to fashion history. On top of assembling an esteemed crew of actors, the president and chief creative officer tapped two creators he considers "truly great 21st century British talent" to tell Thomas Burberry's story: Asif Kapadia, who directed the acclaimed Amy documentary, and Matt Charman, who most recently wrote Bridge of Spies. Shortly after the trailer's premiere, Refinery29 sat down with James, the British actress and face of the My Burberry Black fragrance, to discuss her turn as a fictionalized (and Burberry-clad) pilot, the famous faces she considers fashion icons (we have some in common), and how the house's projects support homegrown talent in the U.K.
Photo: David M. Benett/Getty Images for Burberry
The short celebrates Burberry's 160-year history by exploring the life of founder Thomas Burberry. When did you first become aware of the brand and its history?
"When I was a teenager, I remember the boys I always fancied would wear those shirts with the full check. When I signed up to do the My Burberry Black fragrance, they told me all about the history and the heritage, and it was such an impressive story. I think it’s really wonderful that people are going to see that now after they see the Christmas short."

The film has an all-star cast. What was it like to film with such an esteemed crew of fellow Brits?
"It was wonderful. I love Asif [Kapadia's] films anyway, but I was blown away when I saw this. We shot for a week — there must be so much footage, because we did full-on scenes. Asif put that all together and edited it into this trailer. Dominic West, I know well; I worked with him in my first play — he’s just brilliant. I’ve always really admired Sienna [Miller] and looked up to her, so it was great to meet her and work with her on this."

There’s a sense of family among the people who collaborate and star in Burberry campaigns. Your previous costars, Douglas Booth and Sam Riley, have both shot for the brand before.
"I was filming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and doing the press for it when the discussion came about for me joining the Burberry family. I showed Christopher [Bailey] the [film] poster: It was me, Sam Riley, Suki Waterhouse, and Douglas Booth — it was four of us who had all, at some point in our careers, worked with Burberry. I felt kind of confident and honored, really, that Christopher decided to work with me. I think he has a really great eye for emerging talent in music, acting and modeling."
Photo: Courtesy of Burberry

You’re primarily an actress, but you've adapted quite well on these fashion shoots for Burberry. Did you find that transition difficult at all?
"Burberry is so much about embracing who you are and about being genuine and truthful to that. Christopher really supports British talent in all the different arts, so it felt really creative and collaborative and a really easy move into modeling."

Do you feel as comfortable in front of the camera as a model as you do as an actress?
"I actually do. When I’m doing fashion shoots, I tend to pretend to be a character rather than being myself, because then I’d probably feel a bit more vulnerable. Music helps! They usually have music blaring out, so you can dance it away."

You've starred in a number of period dramas and films. Assuming you don't wear a corset every single day, how would you describe your off-duty style?
"My day-to-day style is much more casual — I don’t really make too much of an effort. Because I have to dress up a lot for work and for characters, I can’t really be bothered. I have to admit, Burberry sort of changed my life because now I can just put a trench over anything and look cool!"
Photo: Courtesy of Burberry

Are there any particular women who have impacted your style or shaped the way you dress?
"Really, my stylist [Rebecca Corbin-Murray]. I’ve had a really amazing relationship with her ever since I started on the Cinderella tour, when I suddenly had to do tons of press and red carpet events. It’s been great because it should come from within and be unique to every person, and she’s really helped me develop my own sense of style. That’s been a fun journey. "Also, Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett look so glamorous, in control, and beautiful. I’ve always loved Keira Knightley and watched her fashion choices. When people are bold, I really look up to that. I’m probably a bit more safe in my choices."

Is there one red carpet outfit or look that has made you feel most confident?
"I really loved what I wore for the My Burberry Black event: I had this incredible custom black dress that felt really sexy and effortless. It had this petticoat which I then took off at the after-party!"

More from Celebs & Influencers

R29 Original Series