A trench coat or trenchcoat is a raincoat made of waterproof heavy-duty cotton gabardine drill or poplin, or leather, generally has a removable insulated lining, raglan sleeves, and the classic versions come in various lengths ranging from mid-calf to above the knee. It was originally a military item of clothing and shows this influence in its styling.That the trench coat, one of Britain’s most enduring clothing icons, is intrinsically linked to the rain makes pure sense. What remains intriguing however, is the sliding scale of eclectic associations that the garment has accumulated over time.
There is its neutral role as a smart, double-breasted, weather-resistant staple for businessmen; its powerful silver-screen status as the uniform of sly film noir gangsters and wisecracking detectives. For women, add a pair of stilettos and the belted, buttoned up trench becomes erotically charged.
The trench coat’s name recalls its utilitarian roots as a modern, highly-functional, lightweight garment developed for British officers during World War I to help protect them from the elements on the front line. Two brands hold claim to its invention: Aquascutum, whose trench coats went on to be adopted by Winston Churchill, Cary Grant, Lauren Bacall, Michael Caine and Peter Sellers for his role as Inspector Clouseau in the Pink Panther series; and the aforementioned Burberry, whose celebrity coups range from putting Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn in their coats (for Casablanca and Breakfast at Tiffany’s respectively), and, decades later, tapping fashion royalty schoolboy Romeo Beckham for a campaign.
The fate of the two main competing trench coat brands lies in the need to move with the times. Burberry has been transformed by Christopher Bailey and CEOs Rose Marie Bravo and Angela Ahrendts into a multi-billion dollar player, and its meteoric success depends on leveraging the brand’s heritage – it maintains a ‘Made in Britain’ policy for the manufacture of its trenches – while injecting a new vision. Customers can choose between Heritage and Runway versions, from classic styles in English-woven gabardine or reinterpretations using innovative fabrics like an oxblood velvet-finish vinyl for men or calfskin, screen-printed with black hearts for women.
Not to mention the house’s ambitious social media and marketing strategies, such as the live-streaming of shows and recruitment of a string of hip British muses, from Emma Watson to Tara (son of Bryan) Ferry. Launched in 2009, the brand’s popular blog, Art of the Trench, billed as a “living document of the trench coat,” features series by established image makers, as well as submitted photos, showing members of the public modelling Burberry trench coats. The site is said to have helped fuel the brand’s Facebook fan-base to more than 1 million in its first year.