It was 1856. Queen Victoria was reigning over England. Literary giants Charles Dickens, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle were still alive, while Charlotte Brontë had just passed on. There were only two outlets of recreation for the Victorians – literature, theatre and the arts, and sports in the likes of cricket, cycling, and horse-riding.
And a young 21 year-old mind, Thomas Burberry started a waterproof outdoor clothing business near his birth home – 82 kilometres outside of London, in the borough of Basingstoke.
Thomas Burberry was born in Brockham Green, Surrey. He opened his first shop in Basingstoke, 82km away from London.
The demand for waterproof, outdoor clothes spurred Burberry to open a second store in the same borough. He also had the local farming community of Basingstoke in mind. Burberry’s father himself was a farmer and grocer.
Thomas Burberry opened his first Burberry store in 1856, on Winchester Street, Basingstoke.
And this was a time when England was industrialising itself. It was leading the world in technology and engineering.
Now 44-year-old, Burberry caught the spirit of his time, and invented an unprecedented waterproof fabric called the garbadine. It’s a fine-woven cotton, otherwise known as twill. His invention compared to the traditional raincoats, was remarkably lightweight and breathable. It quickly took the clothing industry by storm.
A clipping featuring Thomas Burberry's breakthrough invention, the cotton twill garbadine.
Burberry would go on to patent his invention 11 years later, and saw numerous explorers, aviators wear his waterproof coats on expeditions and flights. In World War I, Burberry was appointed the war tailor, dressing officers at the frontline. The trench coat as we know today, was a design Burberry made under military regulations for said officers. When the second world war loomed, he supplied the British Armed Forces, Royal Air Force, Royal Pioneer Corps, Officer Cadet Training Unit, Auxiliary Territorial Service, and the women’s division with a full range of military apparel.
A clipping of article featuring Major F.G. Jackson, who mapped parts of the Arctic Circle in a Burberry jacket.
He quickly expanded to London, and exported his apparel abroad. Burberry retired in 1917, aged 61. His two sons took over the business and listed it on the London Stock Exchange. Burberry passed on at 70, but his innovation runs strong in the brand today, 160 years later.
This month Burberry launched a new embossed calf leather, endearingly christened Trench Leather in memory of the humble victories Thomas Burberry single-handedly realised.
The smooth leather is carefully stamped with carved plates, imprinting the fine and even parallel ridges of cotton twill – Thomas Burberry’s first invention.
Trench Leather is then cut into pieces and precisely pieced together into 11 different bag designs.
Felicia Yap & Burberry
A range of embossed calf leather DK88 bags, now in stores.
Burberry calls it the DK88 Bag. DK88 is also colour code for the honey-beige shade of Thomas Burberry’s signature trench coats.
The original honey-beige shade, DK88.
This could well be the most sentimental tribute Burberry has given to its fore-father. There couldn't be a more poignant salute to the brand’s founder. Like a child looking to his parent for guidance in a crowded world, DK88 carries the weight of Burberry’s moving declaration:
“I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, you’ll miss them when they’re gone from your life.”
– as the late Maya Angelou had it.
Burberry DK88 Bag is available here.
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