Burberry’s iconic trench coat is more than a piece of clothing. As the brand’s “Art of the Trench” has proven, the trusted outerwear is also a citizen of the world.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel
Burberry’s iconic trench coat is more than a piece of clothing. As the brand’s “Art of the Trench” has proven, the trusted outerwear is also a citizen of the world.
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Inaugurated in October last year, Burberry’s Seoul flagship store in downtown Gangnam rises from one corner of a busy intersection like a magnificent sculpture of reflective glass and steel. An impressive piece of architecture sitting on a major road that’s often referred to as the arterial vein of luxury in the Asian metropolis, the 13-storey building is home to a wide assortment of Burberry products and personalisation services. Plus, the all-in-one hub also houses the heritage brand’s Korean headquarters in its top floors. 

Tonight, however, as the unmistakable lines of Burberry’s famous check pattern lights up across the structure’s sleek façade like a series of illuminated grids, the shopping haven is transformed into a hip venue for Burberry’s long-running “Art of the Trench” project. 

Launched in 2009, the “Art of the Trench” combines Burberry’s illustrious history with its digital prowess. The premise of the wildly popular venture is simple: It honours the Burberry trench coat and the people who give it a stylish lease of life by inviting citizens from across the globe to submit pictures of themselves in the timeless outerwear. 

Twenty-five million page views on a dedicated microsite later (not to mention successful chapters in cities such as Rio de Janeiro, Hong Kong, Los Angeles and Paris, and the Middle East), the “Art of the Trench” has finally headed to Seoul. 

But it’s not the first time the project has taken the South Korean capital by storm—the “Art of the Trench” made its debut in the bustling cosmopolitan city in 2013. In the three years since, it has helped raise the standing of the unassuming trench coat in the minds of the Korean public. This year’s edition continues to celebrate the relationship between the wardrobe staple and Seoul’s many movers and shakers. As guests and a slew of heavyweight celebrities eagerly file into the gargantuan flagship (most turned up in Burberry trench coats, of course), the one-night-only extravaganza couldn’t have been more symbolic of Burberry’s journey on Korean soil. 

Thirty new pictures of South Korean tastemakers dressed in the iconic trench coat have been added to the archives. With historical landmarks beautifully framing each shot, the pictures are befitting of Seoul’s status as an up-and-coming Asian fashion powerhouse. 

From dramatic floor-length gowns to street-inspired hoodies, each personality has worn the trench coat in ways that not only show off their eclectic individuality, but also reiterate the trench coat’s versatility. Others, such as actress Han Hyo Joo, simply let the trench coat do the talking by appropriating it as if it were a dress. Looking resplendent in a dusty pink lace rendition, Han adds: “I especially like it because it’s elegant, feminine and very stylish."

“I learnt that Burberry will be celebrating its 160th anniversary this year,” notes fellow actor Go Soo. “It’s steeped in tradition, but at the same time each collection feels young and fresh. This contradiction between the old and new makes Burberry more special.”

In some ways, the “Art of the Trench” also fêtes the rite of passage the trench coat has undertaken since it was patented in 1912 by the late Thomas Burberry. Taking its moniker from the long ditches that protected soldiers from enemy fire, the trench coat has evolved from military regalia into an indispensable part of the modern wardrobe, thanks to tweaks made by Burberry’s visionary namesake founder. His invention of gabardine, a water-resistant material, ensured the longevity of the all-weather outerwear. 

Over the past 15 years, under the directional vision of Chief Creative Director and Chief Executive Offcer Christopher Bailey, the trench coat also took on different forms, reconfigured for a new generation with new silhouettes and fabrications such as English tweed, denim, lace and even latex. Yet, through all its various fashion-forward incarnations, the trench coat remains an integral part of Burberry’s history; its reputation as a reliable closet investment firmly grounded in the ethos of functionality and universality. 

From trench warfare to a global style staple, isn’t it wonderful how fashion can be such a peace keeper?