Riccardo Tisci’s Vision For Burberry Redefines “British” Style

Photographs by Campbell Addy

Alessandro Mahmoud posing in a white Burberry t-shirt

It’s a good thing heads of state aren’t the only ones who represent nations, and that music and fashion are powerful tools that can help shape national identities. When Riccardo Tisci took his post as creative director of Burberry, in 2018, two years after a hotly contested vote in which the United Kingdom chose to separate from the European Union, the Italian designer assumed responsibility for quite possibly the most iconic symbol of Britishness aside from the Queen herself. Today, the U.K.—like the U.S.—is mired in a righteous debate over what it means to be a citizen. Tisci, in his own way, has made an important contribution to that conversation.

Anyone who has followed his career—the die-hards remember him from Ruffo Research, the early-aughts design incubator, though most of us got to know him when he was appointed creative director of Givenchy, in 2005—knows that it would have been out of the question for him to take Burberry back into the traditional old-Englishness from whence it first came. Instead, Tisci, who was a teenage goth and was raised with eight sisters, has invested his creative energy into claiming new social and stylistic territory for Burberry. He works the house’s legacy codes adeptly, rehashing the trenchcoat six ways from Sunday, and shooting up tartans with unexpected colors and scales. A talented tailor, he’s infused Burberry’s considerable tranche of business clothes with edge and sensuality, and brought new urgency to his unique brand of elevated, funked-up streetwear.

Tisci has figured out how to bring Burberry to where people actually are, while simultaneously providing something for them to wear when they get to where they want to be. He is a designer who is invigorated by in-between spaces—whether in gender identities, ethnicities, or walks of life. When we asked him to assemble a dream team of musicians and muses who represent the spirit of his vision for Burberry, we knew the result would be anything but timid. Almost all of the talent you see here comes from an immigrant background. Only a handful are even officially British, in the old-school sense of the word. If nations are ideas more than they are passports and borders, Tisci’s Burberry Britain is a place that celebrates exuberance, power, diversity, and fierceness above all.

Burberry clothing and accessories (throughout). All subjects photographed in February 2020. Photographed by Campbell Addy.

Alessandro Mahmoud, stage name Mahmood, grew up in Milan, with a Sardinian mother and an Egyptian father, and appeared on Italian X Factor in 2012. He performs what he calls “Morocco pop” and has had to weather xenophobic comments from far-right Italian politicians as his fame has grown. Last year Tisci cast Mahmood, among others, in Burberry’s holiday-season campaign.

Photographed by Campbell Addy.

Born Vanessa Lesnicki, Shay is a Belgian rapper of Congolese and Polish descent. Her first album, Jolie Garce, was released in 2016, and its lead single, PMW (which stands for “Pussy Money Weed”), was a huge hit. Her second album, Antidote, was released last year; the video for its hit single, “Liquide,” has had more than 30 million views and counting on YouTube.

“I always thought high fashion was something that only spoke to elites. I’m a rapper who came up in the Francophone world, and in Europe, the image of women rappers is really closed; we have a hard time being seen in the media. In France, I’m literally the first woman from hip-hop to be included in the fashion conversation. I always wanted to bring a high aesthetic level to my work and make a bridge between street culture and fashion, and Riccardo was the first person in fashion to reach out to me.”

Photographed by Campbell Addy.

The Coventry-based rapper’s first single, “Frontline,” which became a viral smash in January, likens life in his rough hometown neighborhood to being in a war zone.

“I’m the first generation in my family to be born in Britain, but I grew up speaking Wolof. I was sent to Gambia, where my family is from, for a few years when I was 2 because my grandmother’s house burned down and my mother couldn’t work in the U.K. anymore. In England there are different cultures everywhere. In the video for ‘Frontline,’ you see, like, 50 different nationalities represented.”

Fleur du Mal bra; Wolford tights. Photographed by Campbell Addy.

A musician, performance artist, singer, and producer, Arca, who grew up in Venezuela, has worked with artists as diverse as Kanye West, FKA Twigs, Björk, and Rosalía.

“For the Fall/Winter 2020 show, Riccardo asked the fabulous pianists Marielle and Katia Labèque and me to collaborate. I accompanied their playing with synth and electronics. Fashion can be a force for change—it allows people to come together in fantasy. Especially during times of change, it helps ask questions and mediate identity.”

Their own rings. Photographed by Campbell Addy.

The New York–based, Canadian party queen’s dance nights, including Shade, Lowbrow Despicable, and Pop Souk, take place all over the world. You could call them LGBTQ-centric, but they really just embrace anyone and everyone fabulous—including Tisci, who never misses one when he and Ladyfag are in the same town.

“I’ve been friends with Riccardo for almost 15 years. We met at a party and have not stopped partying together since. I remember he made a little face when I walked in the door. I was like, ‘What? What are you looking at?’ And he just shook his head and started laughing. It was kind of like falling in love in a friendly way. I felt smitten, and I still feel that way after all this time. There’s no bullshit with him. That night I was wearing a full Spanish look. For a year or two he thought I was Mexican, and I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’m not!”

Photographed by Campbell Addy.

The Amsterdam-based DJ, who is of Ukrainian, Dutch, and Cameroonian origin, started his career in music as a singer—he once fronted the house act Jason & the Argonauts. He spent his quarantine in the recording studio, building up material for his new label, Djoko.

“I first met Riccardo at Circoloco, the after-hours club in Ibiza, and over the years we kept connecting. We finally decided to work together last September on the soundtrack for his Spring/Summer 2020 show. He is such a visionary, very much connected to what’s happening now. You can see it in city centers all over the world, people getting on the same page, even if in the countryside they aren’t always so progressive. Riccardo has always had this urban, cosmopolitan perspective.”

His own jewelry and watch. Photographed by Campbell Addy.

A model and activist raised in Florida and now based in New York City, Mathieu spends his downtime volunteering in homeless and senior centers, and working on his singing career.

“When I was in elementary school, I was really into punk bands like Blink 182 and Green Day, and I’d draw on my arms. There was this sticker machine in Walmart that sold fake tattoos for 50 cents. I’d get as much change as I could and put all these stars and rainbows all over my neck. I got my first face tattoo when I was 16. Getting ‘Self’ and ‘Love’ on my eyelids hurt a lot, but now I love how I can be talking to someone and they catch a little glimpse. Looking the way I do, I’m fully aware of stigma, and that there are spaces and conversations I’m not allowed to be a part of. Riccardo facilitates representation. It’s very, very hard to find people who are willing to use what they have to amplify the voices and vision of people who wouldn’t necessarily get that chance on their own.”

Photographed by Campbell Addy.

The daughter of a coal miner and a kindergarten teacher, Shayk, who was born near the border between Russia and Kazakhstan, had a career working as a swimsuit model when Tisci cast her for Givenchy, in 2013.

“I remember so well when I went into that casting how Riccardo looked at me. He was smoking, and it was like I had known him for decades. The thing about Riccardo is, he loves different women’s bodies and shapes, and he knows how to dress them all. He comes from a family with eight sisters, and he really loves women. That’s special.”

Photographed by Campbell Addy.

He hails from northwest London, but raps from behind a custom-made mask he never removes in public, in a style heavily influenced by the sounds of the Maghreb. Huncholini the 1st, his most recent album, came out in January.

“Music is something everyone can understand, no matter what language it’s in. I used to just wear a balaclava, and then I felt like I was growing as an artist, so I wanted to turn it into something much more special. I went to see a guy who makes masks for the theater, like Phantom of the Opera. I said, ‘This is my situation, bro. I’m trying to be anonymous, but I’m going for something creative.’ ”

Araks bra. Photographed by Campbell Addy.Hair by Jawara for Dyson at Art Partner; makeup by Hiromi Ueda at Art + Commerce; manicure by Anatole Rainey at Premier Hair and Make-up. Set design by Georgina Pragnell at Webber. Booking by Special Projects. Produced by Joy Hart at JN Production; production manager: Nina Russell at JN Production; photography assistants: Lucas Bullens, Pierre Lequeux, Jordan Lee, Chanelle Mann; retouching: Studio RM; fashion assistants: Roberto Johnson, Bridgette Magdalene; production assistants: Charlotte Mansfield, Jake Spurgeon, Freddy Avenell, Nerea Wallis Sanz; hair assistants: Selasie Ackuaku, Maxx Anderson, Jordan Dufresne; makeup assistants: Juri Yamanaka, Elvira Brandt, Soda Choi; set assistant: Harry Stayt; tailor: Alina Gencaite.

Smalls, who comes from Puerto Rico, was working mostly for catalogs until Tisci hired her for Givenchy’s haute couture summer ’10 show. In time, Smalls became the first Latina woman to win a contract with Estée Lauder, and today she is one of the highest-paid models in the world. Earlier this year, she announced she would be donating half of her salary from the second half of 2020 to Black Lives Matter organizations.

“Riccardo changed the whole conversation around me and how the industry saw me. He’s kind of shy and reserved, but he’s also really goofy and sarcastic. He brings an authenticity wherever he goes, stays true to who he is, and doesn’t follow trends. That’s why he’s a trailblazer.”