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Photography by Mr John Lindquist | Words by Mr Mansel Fletcher

Few brands can lay claim to the kind of resolutely masculine heritage that Burberry boasts. These days the company's extraordinary business success shares top billing with its clothes, but that shouldn't distract one from the fact that its trench coats have an unrivalled history.

The trench coat was created to go to war in. Originally designed in 1895 for British officers fighting in the Boer War, the coat's current form was developed in 1914, for soldiers in WWI. It remains relevant 116 years after it was first designed.

Original military details that persist are the epaulettes, throat latch, hook and bar, back rain shield, the D-ring on the belt, the cuff straps and the storm flap on the right shoulder, which can button over the coat's wrap to keep the rain out.

The company's extraordinary business success shares top billing with its clothes, but that shouldn't distract one from the fact that its trench coats have an unrivalled history

Mr Thomas Burberry, who founded his eponymous company in 1856, invented gabardine, which is a method of weaving fabric (either wool or cotton) that makes it rainproof. In 1911 gabardine proved its worth in the ultimate real-world test, when Norwegian explorer Mr Roald Amundsen used Burberry equipment to conquer the South Pole.

Three years later Sir Ernest Shackleton, the famous Antarctic explorer, wore Burberry gabardine on his polar expedition, and in 1984 a modern-day explorer, Mr Robert Swan, wore Burberry for his In the Footsteps of Scott expedition.

In 1920 the famous Burberry check, registered as a trademark, was first used to line trench coats - the lining of this coat is in cotton.

The popularity of trench coats hasn't waned since they were introduced. In the 1940s they were still considered sportswear, and were advertised as dog-walking coats, while in the 1960s styles were slimmer and more simple - much as they are now.

By the 1980s the celebrated British artist Mr David Hockney was pairing his trench coat with a polka-dot bow tie. Prince Charles and Diana, Princess of Wales wore his-and-hers coats for public appearances. The company's royal connection - Elizabeth II granted Burberry a royal warrant - had been refreshed in the 1960s when HRH Prince Charles started to wear Burberry coats. He granted the company a royal warrant in 1989.

Mr Christopher Bailey, Burberry's chief creative officer, was appointed in May 2001 and has spent a decade turning the company into a byword for international fashion. His signature look is a vibrantly youthful take on classic British style, perpetually inspired by the music scene.

A Burberry advertising campaign, circa 1950

A quick Q&A with Mr Christopher Bailey,
chief creative officer, Burberry

Why has this century-old design demonstrated such longevity?
"The history of the trench coat is functional - it was designed for wartime. Everything was designed for a reason, which is why it is so beautiful and why it has become a design classic."
How do you wear your trench coat?
"I prefer to wear it open rather than closed, and I fasten my belt at the back. I prefer to make it feel easy, it's a bit more relaxed, I don't like things too buttoned up."
What accounts for the coat's popularity?
"Everyone finds their own way of wearing their trench coat. You can wear it if you're a little bit more formal, or you can wear it with jeans and a T-shirt. I love it when the collar is up but I also love it when you see formal City guys wearing it all completely fastened up and buckled."


The Chief Creative Officer of Burberry on the trench coat