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BACKGROUND: Downs and ups at Burberry.

Byline: By Trevor Datson

The severing of Burberry's filial ties with GUS later this year is the latest twist in the raincoats-to-riches history of a quintessentially British fashion statement.

The reinvented luxury label has delivered 60 per cent share price growth in less than three years on the stock market, and although sales growth is slowing the marque is in better health now than for most of its 149-year history.

Under the stewardship of Rose Marie Bravo, shipped in from Macy's and Saks Fifth Avenue in 1997 to rescue the stodgy brand, Burberry's fusty 'heritage' image was spiced up with a sexy, contemporary sassiness.

For a couple of years at the beginning of this decade, Burberry was white-hot. Supermodel Kate Moss joined superstar Madonna - and much of the Royal Family - in sporting its designs, underlining the fact that the brand was no longer just about gabardine raincoats.

More recently, Burberry's image has been tarnished on its home market, at least, by an unwelcome association with football hooligans and 'chavs,' who adopted (usually fake) Burberry caps as its outward emblem.

But UK sales make up only a small proportion of the pounds 715 million of revenue that Burberry generated in the past financial year, and the company has been strong on innovation in its key US and Asian markets.

Pink raincoats, mini-capes, fragrances and bikinis have been added to the classic camel, red and black check whose heritage stretches back to the days of Queen Victoria what would become a global fashion empire in 1856 as a draper's shop in sleepy Basingstoke.

The success of gabardine, a breathable, durable waterproof fabric invented by Burberry, allowed him to open his first London store in 1891 on Haymarket, where the company's headquarters remain to this day.

Early designs had a distinct military slant - Burberry was commissioned in 1901 to design new officers' uniforms for the British Army.

Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, the first man to reach the South Pole, was outfitted by Burberry in his historic 1911 mission - and left a gabardine tent at the Pole to be found by rival Captain Scott a few days later.

The trademark Burberry check first appeared in 1924, but was used only as a lining for the trenchcoat until 1967, when it began to adorn umbrellas, luggage and scarves at a time when Swinging London, the Beatles and Mary Quant became a fashion statement in itself.

GUS, which acquired Burberry in the 1950s, expanded the store network in the United States and Asia throughout the 1970s, 80s and 90s, but the marque had had its day.

Then enter Rose Marie Bravo, to perform the most remarkable fashion turnaround in recent history. And hot on her heels came an equally remarkable recovery in the company's financial position.

Burberry remains highly profitable, racking up a 16 per cent increase in pretax profits to pounds 165.5 million in the past year.

The company now operates 151 retail outlets and has a string of licence agreements across the globe bringing its ranges to the gabardine-hungry masses

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Rosie Marie Bravo, chief executive officer of Burberry
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Title Annotation:Business
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 26, 2005
Words:517
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