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Angela Ahrendts, CEO
Christopher Bailey, Chief Creative Officer

Dynamic Duos: Burberry's Angela Ahrendts And Christopher Bailey On Trust, Soul

No design-driven brand has done a better job of blending rich heritage with digital smarts and cutting-edge storytelling than the 157-year-old British fashion house.

Angela Ahrendts, CEO
Christopher Bailey, Chief Creative Officer

Bailey: We have this odd thing where sometimes we have completely separate meetings with the same people, and they’re like, "So have you and Angela just met to discuss this?" We’re like, "No, why?" "Because she kinda said exactly the same thing." We know each other incredibly well.

Angela and I have known each other for a rather long time. We were in New York together and then when we started this journey together....

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Ahrendts: We go back to Donna Karan. I was a young president. Here was this young British guy who just started there. He was really cute, and God, he was so talented. All the lights were off in the entire building, and he was sitting there all by himself at 9 or 10 at night, sketching. I went down this dark hall, and this little light was on in this little office. So I just peeked my head in, and that’s how we initially got to know each other. I looked in his eyes, and I trusted him.

Bailey: We had this lunch and we talked about what we would dream of doing if we were leading a company. And probably what, seventy percent of the conversation was about culture, because that was almost more important to us. We knew that if we got the culture right then everything else would fit into place.

Ahrendts: Well cause I think we're also incredibly conscious that everybody is watching us and they are feeding off of our energy and we are the energy of the company. We know that and we talk a lot about energy.... When we sat down and said, "How have we created this energy? How do we keep 11,000 people so connected, so united? And 90% of it is trust. There is an innate trust that I don't second-guess anything he does, never have. And on business, he doesn't second-guess anything I do.

Christopher Bailey and Angela Ahrendts

Bailey: We share similar values.

Ahrendts: We weren’t from this big, high-fashion—

Bailey: Really fancy kind of—

Ahrendts: He’s from Yorkshire! I’m from a small farm town in Indiana! We were raised very similarly—liking, respecting, trusting people.

Bailey: We’re both glass-half-full kind of people. Optimistic. Positive. Can-do. But hopefully not in that nauseating way!

Ahrendts: Keeping the heritage is what centers everybody. We've evolved the history, the product story, the messaging, but the core stayed the same. The target audience, the culture is what we have totally disrupted. Because the culture wasn't keeping pace.

Bailey: We’ve got this beautiful history—that’s the foundation, the rock. We have real traditions. We were born from this cloth, from gabardine, and we were born from a coat. So every show, every look, always starts with outerwear. But we also talk about energy, about living in the moment, about innovation, about playing and exploring and being curious. We never ever talk about scale, or how many people we want to have, or—

Ahrendts: We’ve never been finance first. We’ve always been instincts first.

My dad used to always say he can teach you anything but he couldn't teach you to feel. And so that's the hardest part when you have 11,000 people: How do you teach them to feel like we feel?

Bailey: We like people to come into our stores and actually feel welcome and not feel like they're inferior and they shouldn't be there. We have always said actually this isn't about money, it's not about price. This can be an experience. It doesn't have to be about buying something.

And hopefully one day we would love it if you might buy something but it's okay if you go onto Burberry.com and you just want to listen to Burberry Acoustic, you know? Because you start to feel the soul of the brand, you feel it.

Ahrendts: Soul is the word.


Read more pairings from Fast Company's 10th Annual Innovation By Design issue:

[Photograph by Julian Broad]

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