Jan 20th 2011 | from PRINT EDITION
A long way from the football terraces
FOR Britons wondering how their country will earn its keep in a world that is tilting eastward, some sectors offer cause for optimism. Newly prosperous foreigners will probably want at least a few things that Britain supplies better than most: higher education, financial services, popular culture. Another, sometimes underestimated strength is fashion: the country boasts influential street stylists and vibrant chain-stores (such as Top Shop), plus some coveted luxury brands, such as Burberry.
On January 18th the 155-year-old label announced a 27% jump in revenue to £480m ($770m) for the last quarter of 2010. Burgeoning sales in Asia (amounting to £150m, up 68% on the same quarter a year earlier) accounted for much of this. Burberry recently bought 50 shops in China that had previously been run by its franchise partners, and would like to open more there. Latin America is another important growth area; new outlets have recently been opened in Brazil and Mexico. Even in Britain, where there are just a handful of stand-alone Burberry shops, the company’s best customers are foreign tourists.
On the face of it, none of this is surprising. Many luxury-goods manufacturers are profiting from the rise of the Asian rich. But Burberry’s story is more interesting than that of many posh brands. For in its own backyard, the firm has had to fight to preserve its reputation for exclusivity.
The problem dates back to the 1980s, when football fans travelling to European cities for matches took a liking to the snazzy clothes sported by the locals. By hook or by crook, they returned home with these garments: Lacoste polo shirts, Sergio Tacchini sweaters, Fila shoes and so on. Thus the “casual” movement was born: a culture of sartorial one-upmanship on football terraces, in a country where working-class men obsessed over clothes long before the rise of the metrosexual. The more