Who is the real Daniel Lee? Meet the new Creative Chief at Burberry

Words by
Melanie Rickey

16th January 2023

On February 20, 2023, Daniel Lee will show his first catwalk collection as the Chief Creative Officer for Burberry, a mere five months since starting the job, though rumour has it he has been preparing his role behind the scenes for longer. What can we expect from his debut? And just who is Daniel Lee?

On October 3, 2022, Yorkshire born designer Daniel Lee joined Burberry as its Chief Creative Officer, a little under a year after leaving a wildly successful three-year stint at Bottega Veneta, where he single-handedly re-invented the It-bag, found a super-fan in the shape of Rihanna, and saw comparable revenues rise by 8.9%. In November 2021, in the wake of reaching this milestone of fiscal success for Bottega Veneta, he abruptly departed in what its holding company Kering stated was a “joint decision.”

Little is known about Lee, a handsome, gym-honed, be-freckled redhead with a passing resemblance to Damian Lewis, and that’s how he likes it. “If I never had to have a public presence, I would feel much more comfortable,” he has said. Lee, who famously deleted Bottega Veneta’s Instagram while helming the house, also doesn’t have his own social media accounts, because, he points out, “I don’t know what I would put on there that would be interesting.”

The Pouch Bag
Image courtesy of Bottega Veneta

His arrival to Burberry has echoes - not that of his predecessor Riccardo Tisci, the Italian who ran Burberry from 2018-21 with tepid success - but of Christopher Bailey who helmed Burberry before Tisci from 2001-2018. That Bailey is another Yorkshire born low-key by nature designer, one who preferred his product to speak louder than his personality, may have been a factor in Lee’s appointment, too.

Daniel Lee, who shares with Bailey a similar down-to-earth approach to his work, has previously spoken about seeing him as a mentor, and perhaps it is also telling, that the first fashion show Lee describes seeing after graduating from Central Saint Martins was Christopher Bailey’s autumn/winter 2012 outing for Burberry.

Daniel Lee
Image courtesy of Burberry

A British outdoorsy luxury brand like Burberry surely needs a British designer who understands that life and style, and Daniel Lee undoubtedly does. “I’m from Bradford, Yorkshire,” Lee recently told Vogue, “very close to Castleford, where the [Burberry] trench coats are manufactured, and to Keighley, where the gabardine is made. So it’s very close to my homeland.” Certainly, Burberry’s CEO Jonathan Ackroyd is betting on Daniel Lee being the man to bring the brand back to both its British roots and the global prominence it enjoyed under Christopher Bailey.

So what’s Daniel Lee’s story? After growing up in Bradford the eldest of three siblings, Lee, who turns 37 on January 22,  attended Central Saint Martin’s College of Art where he studied a BA and a Masters in Fashion Design. Following graduation in 2010, Lee began his career, (as did Christopher Bailey 16 years previously), with Donna Karan in New York before working with Phoebe Philo at Celine in 2012; by 2017 he was design director for the house.

Puddle Boots by daniel Lee for Bottega Veneta
Image courtesy of Bottega Veneta

He joined Bottega Veneta in 2018, ostensibly to take care of the clothing side of the business, yet his first success was an accessory, the “Pouch”, which swiftly went onto being the fastest selling handbag in the history of the brand. At this point, with just two solo runway collections under his belt – with one yet to arrive at boutiques - he was very much under the radar of most of the fashion world. This changed forever the night of the British fashion Awards in December 2019.

Amazingly, nine years into his career, Lee had yet to be invited to a single fashion awards ceremony. But, that night, having been nominated in four categories for his work at Bottega Veneta, he was obliged to attend, and quietly advised by the British Fashion Council who hold the event, to have a little speech ready.

Daniel Lee honed his signature look at Celine, with Phoebe Philo
Image courtesy of Bottega Veneta

First, he won brand of the year for Bottega Veneta, and was so thrilled, he ran to the stage, forgetting his notes. Next he won accessories designer of the year, so headed back to the stage, this time with his notes. Thinking he was done, he relaxed, but it wasn’t over yet. Next Daniel Lee was awarded British designer of the year award for womenswear. Finally, he scooped the top prize of the night -  the designer of the year award. No designer had ever won four British Fashion Awards in one night. Daniel Lee had arrived.

A lot of the hype behind his quadruple win came from the Pouch, his soft, squashable clutch bag made from butter-soft leather that feels like a pillow, or a stress ball. A bag beloved of editors and influencers the world over, including Rihanna. It’s easy to see why, with its cuddly shape, it literally broke the mould of the so called ‘It-bag”, simultaneously reviving what was seen by the industry as a dead category.  Other fashion hits followed, included his moulded Croc-a-alike “Puddle boots” a theme, no doubt, he will revisit for Burberry, and his “Cassette” bag, which blows up the signature intrecciato weave of the house, making for a graphic, instantly recognisable product.

Cassette Bag
Image courtesy of Bottega Veneta

So far, so social media influencer friendly, and while creating popular products in poppy colours, like his “Bottega Green”, is his obvious power play, it is in Daniel Lees well-constructed, carefully considered clothes, and his passion for creating luxury wardrobe essentials honed at Celine – his perfectly cut high-waist trousers and cut-out tube dress being a case in point - that we find his working philosophy. “As a designer, you have the power to help people feel better about themselves when they get dressed in the morning,” he has said.

Bottega Green
Image from Spring/Summer 2021 collection of Bottega Veneta, courtesy of the house

Key to that, he says, is his ability to be part of real life, and designing clothes for it, rather than a celebrity designer complete with an entourage and A-list lifestyle, like many of his big-league contemporaries. Lee has been open about his partner, Roberto Bolle, a former principal dancer at American Ballet Theatre with whom he has recently bought a Georgian house in London which they are renovating together,  but Lee insists he wants the focus to be on his work, not on him.

“Privacy gives you a valuable sense of freedom,” he told Cultured magazine, for which he posed topless in 2020 in a series of photographs by Juergen Teller. “In my role, it’s important to be part of the real world, to be on the street, to make sure you don’t become disconnected from what feels relevant and what is happening. If you can stay private, you can blend in with the crowd.”

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee photographed by Juergen Teller for Cultured, 2020

His first designs for Burberry, a range of “Burberry Classics” are due to be released in early February, with his first campaign, created in collaboration with London based photographer and filmmaker Tyrone Lebon, who Lee worked with at Bottega Veneta. It and will offer a tantalising glimpse of what is in store for his Autumn/Winter 2023 catwalk show showing February 20.

Last year Daniel Lee shared his excitement for what was to come with British Vogue, and hinted at his plans for his debut autumn/winter 2023 show. “Think about the trench coat – it’s been around for decades. So what is the bag that can stand the test of time like that trench coat? What is the shoe? What is the overcoat that lives legitimately next to the trench and will be around for a very long time?

We’ll find out soon enough.