What Apple Can Learn From Burberry’s Iconic Trench Coat

In a series of recent interviews with Fast Company, Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts shared insight on how her tenure at the luxury brand could influence the future of retail at Apple.

The Burberry trench coatsImage via Burberry World

Just 13 days ago, at Fast Company‘s Innovation by Design conference, Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts was asked why the luxury fashion brand and Apple were “natural bedfellows.” No one knew then that Apple CEO Tim Cook was about to name Ahrendts as the company’s new head of retail. The question was nothing more than a coincidence, related to a recent Apple-Burberry runway collaboration. Still, Ahrendts couldn’t help but flash a big smile.


Perhaps she was already in talks with Apple about her new role. Perhaps not. My hunch is that she was, given how much time she spent heaping endless praise on her partner-in-crime and future successor, Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative officer. (Ahrendts even asked that we keep an empty chair on stage in his absence, to represent his creative spirt. Seriously.) Regardless, the insights Ahrendts shared on stage are revealing, a sign of how she plans to bring her Burberry DNA to the Apple retail experience.

In recent years, Apple has had to deal with insatiable and increasingly impatient shareholders and consumers, who are forever demanding the next game-changing product–forever unsatisfied with the “status quo” even after only a handful of generations of the iPhone and iPad have been released (to wide success and acclaim, no less). They forever hunger for the next big thing, and spurn Apple when it doesn’t deliver.

This dynamic could potentially be manifested at the retail level. As consumers enter the store, and continue to see what appears to be the same-old, same-old–an incrementally improved iPhone, iPad, and so forth–they might be less inclined to return. The once-heavenly all-white experience might some day grow stale.

Ahrendts has had to deal with a similar challenge at Burberry. It’s been her job to keep the 158-year-old brand looking fresh, and she’s done so not by abandoning the company’s past successes in favor of the radically different. The company’s iconic trench coat, for example, is more than a century old, yet remains the company’s flagship product. How does Burberry keep customers coming back for more? Ahrendts explains in the video:

“The trench coat is ageless, timeless, seasonless. We don’t use any of the traditional marketing metrics when we’re looking at the trench coat. The goal is to make it the most artistic item of the season; the goal is to make it the most classic item. If the trench coat gets too narrow, then we haven’t done our job. In our mind, everyone in the world should have a trench coat, and there should be a trench coat for everyone in the world. It doesn’t matter your age; it doesn’t matter you gender.”

Simply replace “trench coat” with “iPhone” and you’ll better understand why Tim Cook considers her such an ideal fit for the company.

About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.