Saturday, 21 May 2011

B for Burnstein....Brilliant...and Browns

From its early beginnings in 1970 as a small designer boutique selling Missoni,Sonia Rykiel and Ossie Clark - Browns is now recognised globally as one of London's most fashion-forward emporiums of style; a first stop for those seeking the most covetable designer pieces; all of which are selectively edited from the key mens and womenswear collections and given street-cred wearability.
Founded by Joan Burstein and her late husband, Sidney; it was Burstein's vision to offer both established and raw talent a commercial launch pad that propelled some of the world's top designers into fashion's elite force today.
Ralph LaurenCalvin Klein and Armani all owe their success in the British market to Burstein; innovative and outlandish designers like Commes des Garcons were given a leg-up and window-space where other retailers thought them too risky; and avant-garde designers like John Galliano and the late Alexander McQueen, regarded by Burstein as an edgy, fresh new breed of graduate hip kids straight from Central Saint Martins and The London College of Fashion (two of London's leading design institutions) were given a platform to emerge as fashion's next generation.
The boutique was also the first retailer to provide a space for pieces from Galliano's revolutionary 1984 degree collection 'Les Incroyables' (for which he transformed areas of his college into a French Revolutionary street scene); an honour which catapulted him into the realms of fashion's most influential designers; later launching his own collection and earning him chief design roles with french fashion houses Givenchy and now Dior.
That new generation was also to include British designers Matthew Williamson,Hussein ChalayanGareth PughJulian MacdonaldMark Fast andChristopher Kane; seen as a game-changer in British fashion, who went on to design not only his own well received womenswear collections, but capsule ranges for Topshop and Versus (Versace's younger label).
Burnstein was instrumental in bringing these designers to the forefront of fashion and can be credited with their early success. More recently, she has championed the likes of Alexander WangPhillip Lim, illustrator Beatrice Boyle's graphic print tees featuring images of women with mascara-smudged eyes and fine jeweller Natasha Collis' delicate gold jewellery featuring precious stones (who also happens to be Burnstein's granddaughter... which helps!).
In 1997, Browns Focus was launched, providing cutting edge fashion to a hip and younger clientele at its famous South Molton Street, W1 address; and is now a first stop for those seeking an informed service; something not found in fashion's fierce contemporary retail environment; and a signature that Browns prides itself on, due to their understanding and knowledge of their customers needs.
In 2006, Burnstein was honoured with a CBE for her work in turning Browns into a microcosm of fashion and for her support of, and services to the British Fashion Industry.
In May this year, Browns celebrated 40 years in the business with an exhibition showcasing their many years of fashion innovation; which further cemented Burnstein as a visionary and talent-spotter of the unconventional; on a par with US Vogue's Editor-In-Chief, Anna Wintour (also a Brit...we obviously know a thing or two about fashion).
Like the late fashion stylist Isabella Blow, credited with finding and bringing the genius that was McQueen to our attentions; Burnstein's eye for discovering the rare, unseen and and the beautiful is ultimately what has made Browns the retail icon it is today; something she herself is nonchalant about, saying:
"It just happens. People say, 'How can you tell?' It's a feeling. It's a gut instinct."
And of course, it's not just in amongst the rails at Browns four individual St Molton Street boutiques (Browns, Browns Focus, Labels for Less, Browns Men) or the three other stores in Hinde St (Bride), Mayfair (the shoe boutique) or Sloane Street (Women), that you can find the unusual and the must-have; the concept also extends to, which has achieved phenonmenal success and also boasts a style blog, featuring uber chic celebrities wearing designers pieces which are available in store and online.
And as fashion has embraced the digital age, it's only befitting that pay homage to the woman the industry refers to as Mrs B; with a video featuring Britain’s most renowned fashion journalists and retailers paying tribute to Burstein. Watch the video here.
Fashion may be synonymous with lots of faux air kissing people with great shoes and handbags; but we all hold a genuinely special place in our hearts (and purses) for Joan Burnstein, whose mission to influence our imaginations and our wardrobes for four decades was far from impossible; but a resounding success. And long may she and her family (daughter Caroline and son Simon are both now involved in the business) continue.

(This article is also featured on


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