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Last Updated: Friday, 28 October 2005, 19:25 GMT 20:25 UK
Burberry versus The Chavs
By Claire Bothwell
BBC Money Programme

Kate Moss modelling Burberry
The former face of Burberry faces tabloid allegations of drug-taking
For a top luxury fashion company like Burberry it is the ultimate nightmare.

Their distinctive beige check, once associated with A-listers, has now become the uniform of a rather different social group: the so-called Chav.

With UK sales falling, Burberry cannot afford to become a laughing stock in their own backyard.

But just how does a top designer label shrug off a damaged image?

Only five years ago, Burberry was the darling of the fashion world after undergoing one of the most envied brand reinventions of recent years.

"It really tapped into a sense of the early years of the millennia," says Andrea Cockram of Verdict Research.

But all too quickly, the brand became a victim of its own success.

Label-conscious football hooligans started to adopt the distinctive check.

"It was associated with people who did bad stuff, who went wild on the terraces," says Peter York.

"Quite a lot of people thought that Burberry would be worn by the person who mugged them."

Tabloid jokes

Burberry might have been appalled, but worse was to come.

Brands are a major competitive asset for organisations: those with strong brands can have market values that exceed their book values by far

The brand became something of a national joke when photos of former soap star Danniella Westbrook and her baby were splashed all over the papers.

Both were dressed from head to toe in Burberry check.

The issue refused to die down.

The Essex girl look was adopted all over the country, fed by a flood of counterfeit Burberry check at market stalls across Britain.

Britain discovered Chavs, and the association of Chavs with Burberry spawned a thousand tabloid jokes.

Chavalier for sale

Last summer there was more bad news for Burberry, when pubs and clubs across the country began to ban customers who dressed in the label.

Burberry started to fight back.

I cried when they said you've got to destroy the car. What's next? Taking Rupert the Bear to court for having trousers that looked like Burberrys?
Goldie Lookin' Chain band member Eggsy.

They removed the checked baseball caps from sale and reduced the visibility of their distinctive pattern.

Three years ago it was on a fifth of all products. By 2004 it was on less that 5%.

Burberry is now cracking down on the fake goods that allow what they might consider to be the wrong sort of people to look like they are wearing the brand.

But even this has had unexpected consequences.

Welsh rap band, Goldie Lookin' Chain were given a Vauxhall Cavalier with a distinctive Burberry check paint job.

Nicknamed the "Chavalier", the car was being auctioned off on EBay until Burberry's lawyers got in touch demanding that the car be destroyed for infringing their copyright.

Burberry checked nails
Burberry is moving away from its traditional check

It was not only the car that was crushed, says band member Eggsy.

"I cried when they said you've got to destroy the car. What's next? Taking Rupert the Bear to court for having trousers that looked like Burberrys?"

There was more bad news earlier this year. Kate Moss, whose recent high-profile campaigns to promote the brand made her into the face of Burberry, is now facing tabloid allegations of drug-taking.

UK phenomenon

Burberry's Chief Executive Rose Marie Bravo is stepping down next year in favour of fellow American Angela Ahrendts, and the Chavs issue is likely to be near the top of her in-tray.

But there is reason for hope.

Most of Burberry's sales are overseas, so although sales in the UK have been sliding, international profits for last year reached over 160m.

Ms Ahrendts must be hoping that Chavs don't become a global phenomenon.


The Money Programme - Burberry versus The Chavs: broadcast on BBC TWO at 7pm on Friday 28 October.


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