What do you think of when you see a knight in full armor? On a horse, charging at a target? This is the Burberry logo design in a nutshell. But, as with any well-executed symbolic design, it’s the unseen meaning behind the antique image of the knight that adds volumes to the visible image.
In Burberry’s case, the logo is the guardian of three fundamental philosophies, what Burberry calls its “core values.”. These are given in the company’s corporate literature as “protect, explore, inspire.”
Burberry is an old brand with a proud heritage. The story starts in 1856 when Thomas Burberry opened the doors of the Burberry brand. Thomas had apprenticed at a draper’s as a young man before striking out on his own, aged just 21.
A young man with a love of the nobility, he sought the custom of well-to-to-do aristocrats and successfully convinced them to wear his outdoors clothing.
Some of young Burberry’s earliest clients were literally knights in the old-school sense.
The circles in which he moved and his focus on hardy outerwear helped define the brand. In 1879, Burberry invented gabardine, a material that could better protect his customers in their adventures.
Gabardine was breathable, durable, and yet waterproof, a remarkably useful combination.
The use of a simple color palette for the Burberry logo suggests immense gravity and depth, particularly when combined with the image of a knight.
Knights have many associations with them, including unyielding character, integrity, and bravery. This is communicated by the uniform color on the knight’s shield, horse, and spear.
Some versions have the knight in black, with a light background. In other variants of the logo, the knight appears in alternative colors, such as silver, against a dark background.
What stands out is the unity of color between the knight, the horse, the shield and the spear. There is a singleness of purpose that testifies to the knight’s true character and determination.
The logo’s choice of image also resembles a coat of arms for a noble family. In 1901, this aspect of the logo would have been apparent to the audience. The logo, therefore, associates Burberry with nobility, virtue, and very high standards.
The choice of imagery in the Burberry logo is consistent with the brand’s role in some of the toughest expeditions of the 20th century.
There have been more than a few famous wearers of Burberry attire. Some of these were knights who carried out great feats in the public eye.
One notable example is Sir Ernest Shackleton, one of the most revered knights and adventurers of the 20th century. Sir Shackleton was outfitted by Burberry, including on a dangerous 1914 expedition to the South Pole.
The knight logo is a suitable metaphor for the company’s first value: Protect.
Clothing has as its basic function the role of protecting the human against cold, heat, and other harm. Burberry, however, has gone above and beyond the protection role played by your typical fashion brand.
During World War I, Burberry outfitted the British military with trench coats for the deadly trench warfare. The military is an institution tasked with protecting the most valued parts of a nation: its people and way of life. The Burberry logo expresses this value with a sword and shield.
A great logo has to communicate and impress. The Burberry logo gives hints of the brand’s second core value: Explore. Exploration is the preserve of adventurous souls. An all-black knight is a figure associated with this spirit of adventure.
Before the industrial revolution, a knight on horseback was about as fast as a man could go. In addition, knights, before sports cars and airplanes captured the imaginations of the public, were the symbol of adventure.
Knights are men of duty. A knight has to be willing to go different places, wherever the battle or duty calls. It was therefore fitting that Thomas Burberry would choose this particular mascot to represent his company.
As it happened, Burberry wearers did love to explore. Some of the men and women who have worn these clothes have been the best explorers to have lived.
One of the most accomplished explorers of the late 19th century was Captain Robert Falcon Scott of the Royal Navy. Scott’s explorations took him to such difficult and far-flung places as the Antarctic and the South Pole.
In these explorations, Captain Scott faced stiff competition from the equally accomplished Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen.
A curious aspect of their outfits, however, is that both these champion explorers brought along Burberry’s toughest and most enduring coats. In the late 19th century, Burberry used to specialize only in outdoor wear, so it was an explorer’s natural friend and ally. In the freezing conditions of the South Pole in 1911, Burberry’s was a near requisite.
It should be noted, however, that Amundsen famously supplemented Burberry’s wares with some of the best furs that could be obtained in the world.
Either way, the adequacy of an explorer’s clothing had much to do with whether he or she could successfully overcome the elements.
Exploration, therefore, is not just a word or concept parrotted by the Burberry logo.
It’s about as authentic a value as any for the logo of this remarkable company. The theme of exploration is accentuated by the word “Prorsum”, which is Latin for “forwards”. Burberry is there to help its customers in their exploration.
The third Burberry value is: Inspire. Inspiration is a subjective value. So, a natural question to ask is, “Who gets inspired by knights?”
As we saw earlier, knights enjoyed popular admiration in Britain in 1901. To be a knight, you had to be knighted by the king or the queen. A common criminal would not easily pass the test. The public, therefore, was predisposed in favor of knights.
The image of a knight on horseback riding off to some call of duty was therefore interpreted as a sign of some good cause. If a knight was riding off like that, post-haste, it must be for some good cause. Maybe he is riding to stave off an alien invasion, or maybe to the aid of some damsel, or some other such cause.
Indeed, at that time, British literature idolized knights. Between 1859 and 1889, Lord Tennyson, the Poet Laureate, penned the legendary work, “Idylls of the King.”
This work of poetry celebrated King Arthur and his knights. It gives an accurate measure of the Knights’ reputation in Great Britain in the late 19th century.
With knights enjoying such popularity, the Burberry logo chose a symbol that harnessed public goodwill in a creative way.
The good part of this logo design, however, is that it tells no lies. By the time Thomas Burberry commissioned it in 1901, the company had successfully clothed more than a few knights and ordinary people.
While the full version of the logo contains many elements (image, text, color), the Burberry logo often strips some of these in constrained environments.
In-store displays, the logo is sometimes presented in simple text format, with no image of the knight.
This text-only format is suitable for displays with little room, or where the name of the company should be prioritized.
Some Burberry print-ads, for example, use this minimalist approach to emphasize the name of the company.
The lettering often appears in black, against a white background, or white, against a black background. With a thick Linotype Didot Bold font and distinctive serifs, Burberry’s text-only logo is just as easy to recognize.
Some Burberry products feature the text-only logo while others feature the image-only version. For example, on items such as men’s jackets, the buttons may feature the image of the knight and horse, with no text. The logo adapts to suit the context.