Burberry's emergence as a fashion brand is relatively recent. Until 1990's when the brand was kind of revitalized, it was seen as something that was very classic and rugged, but not necessarily fashionable. The brand was founded in 1856 by a man named Thomas Burberry, who ran a small, kind of outdoor outfitting shop in Basingstoke, England. He moved to London where the business really expanded. Burberry popularized the fabric gabardine, which is a very tightly woven fabric, which is really good for outerwear, especially for outerwear for sports. He appealed to a clientele that was really interested in hunting and fishing and lots of other outdoor activities. Burberry grew into having the reputation of being very correct in town, but also very rugged on the playing fields and out in the country. British army officers wore Burberry coats, a style that was known as the Tielocken, during the Boer War in the 1890's. In 1911, Burberry outfitted Roald Amundsen on his South Pole expedition. During World War I the company added epaulets and D rings to their Tielocken coat, and the trench coat was born. After the war, Burberry started to line the trench coats with their distinctive check, and registered the design as a trademark, and it's, of course, become one of the most copied design in fashion.
Burberry has received several royal warrants for its products, and the royal warrant is a mark of distinction that you get from the British Royal Family when they like your products. The trench coats are among their most famous products. Humphrey Bogart wore one in Casablanca, Audrey Hepburn wore one in Breakfast at Tiffany's. In the late 1990's, Burberry decided to venture into fashion, to try to change their image from being eternally classic, to being more desirable as a fashion brand. They hired an American fashion executive, Rosemary Bravo, and she brought in an Italian designer, Roberto Menichetti, and he launched the line Prorsum, which is one of the important Burberry lines now. For the first time, Burberry presented runway shows, had ads with well-known models, and the Burberry check moved from the lining of trench coats onto everything from bikinis to clothing for pets. The Prorsum line takes its name from the Latin word that means forward, and it's found on the little banner on the Burberry logo.
When Menichetti departed in 2001, Christopher Bailey succeeded him. He had had experience prior to this at Donna Karan and at Gucci, and it's under his direction that the company has really moved forward, with major ad campaigns, lots more fragrances, and very diverse line of products that still conveys classic Burberry, but with a lot more fashion sense.