Brit actress and face of My Burberry Black fragrance, Lily James, returns to her role at the fashion house, starring in a new three-minute short written by Matt Charman and directed by Asif Kapadia, the director of the acclaimed Amy documentary.
The epic trailer, entitled The Tale of Thomas Burberry reimagines key events that have shaped the brand’s history and ethos. Lily stars as pilot Betty Dawson, a fictionalised character inspired by the real-life achievements of Betty Kirby-Green, who broke the world record in 1937 for a return flight from England to Cape Town in an aeroplane named ‘The Burberry’. James is joined by Domhnall Gleeson, who stars as Burberry founder Thomas Burberry, while Sienna Miller plays Thomas’s fictional first love. Dominic West stars as Sir Ernest Shackleton, the pioneering polar explorer who wore Burberry gabardine for three Antarctic expeditions.
Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s chief creative and chief executive officer explains the significance of the short: “This Christmas, as we celebrate our 160th anniversary, we wanted to tell the story of Thomas Burberry – pioneer, inventor, innovator, and the man behind the iconic trench coat – in our own words… To do justice to this story, we turned to a team of truly great twenty-first century British talent: Asif Kapadia, a director whose work I admire enormously, and a cast of our brightest and our best actors.”
Refinery29 sat down with Lily to discuss her latest Burberry gig, the development of her personal style and getting tipsy with her family at Christmas.
The short celebrates Burberry’s 160-year history by exploring the life of founder Thomas Burberry. When did you first become interested in fashion and aware of Burberry as a brand?
I’ve always really loved Burberry. When I was a teenager, I remember the boys I always fancied would wear those shirts with the full check. When I signed up to do My Burberry Black fragrance, they told me all about the history and the heritage and it was such an impressive story. I think it’s really wonderful that people are going to see that now after they see the Christmas short.
You’re primarily an actress but how have you adapted to modelling roles and starring in campaigns or fashion shoots?
This was really great with Burberry because their brand is so much about embracing who you are and about being genuine and truthful to that. Christopher [Bailey] really supports British talent in all the different arts and so it felt really creative, really collaborative and like a really easy move into modelling. I really, really enjoyed it.
Do you feel as comfortable in front of the camera as a model as you do as an actress?
I actually do. When I’m doing shoots I tend to kind of pretend to be a character rather than being myself because then I’d probably feel a bit more vulnerable. Music helps! On shoots they usually have music blaring out so you can dance it away.
It’s an all-star cast with Domhnall Gleeson, Dominic West and Sienna Miller. Can you tell us about filming and working amongst the talented British cast and crew?
It was wonderful. I love Asif’s films anyway but I was blown away when I saw this because we shot for a week – there must be so much footage. We did full-on scenes. Asif put that all together and edited it into this trailer and it was so exciting seeing it. Dom West I know well. I’ve worked with him before in my first play. He’s just brilliant, and I’ve always really admired Sienna and looked up to her so it was great to meet her and work with her on this.
You’ve starred in a number of period dramas and films, worn a lot of corsets and in this tale of Thomas Burberry you play a wartime pilot. How would you describe your everyday style?
My day-to-day style is much more casual, I don’t really make too much of an effort. I think because I have to dress up a lot for work and for characters I can’t really be bothered [laughs]. I’m quite casual and I have to admit, Burberry sort of changed my life because now I can just put a trench over anything and look cool!
Are there any particular women who have impacted your style or shaped the way you dress?
Really my stylist [Rebecca Corbin-Murray], because I’ve had a really amazing relationship with her ever since I started on the Cinderella tour, when I suddenly had to do tones of press and red carpet events. It’s been great because style should come from within and be unique to every person and she’s really helped me develop my own sense of style. That’s been a fun journey.
Also Julianne Moore and Cate Blanchett look so glamorous, in control and beautiful. I’ve always loved Keira Knightley and watching her fashion choices. When people are bold I really look up to that. I’m probably a bit more safe in my choices.
This trailer evokes a real Christmas spirit. How do you like to spend the day?
I spend Christmas with my family at home: lots of food, lots of drink, lots of games. We usually watch Love Actually. Literally every year, but we’re normally quite drunk by that point so it feels like it’s brand new!
As the U.S. election looms, you posted on Instagram last week about your support for Hillary Clinton. Is this something you feel passionate about?
Well, I’m passionate about Trump not winning! That’s for sure. This was a short film that my friend made and I just thought it was really powerful.
Is there one red carpet outfit or look that has made you feel most confident?
I really loved what I wore for the My Burberry Black event [Lily was the face of the fragrance]. I had this incredible custom black dress that felt really sexy and effortless. It had this petticoat which I then took off at the after-party!
There’s a sense of family in the people who collaborate and star in Burberry campaigns. Your previous co-stars Douglas Booth and Sam Riley have also been Burberry boys. Is that family spirit what drew you to the brand?
It’s amazing, when I was filming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and doing the press for it, when the discussion came about for me joining the Burberry family I showed Christopher [Bailey] the [film] poster and it was me, Sam Riley, Suki Waterhouse and Doug Booth. It was four of us who had all at some point in our careers worked with Burberry. So I felt kind of confident and honoured, really, that Christopher decided to work with me. I think he has a really great eye for emerging talent in music, acting and modeling.