An Interview with Una Burke…

Fashion and Art do not have to be placed into two separate categories as Una Burke has proved. As a graduate from the Fashion Artefact MA at London College of Fashion, Una creates what she describes as ‘wearable pieces of art’ - creations that are suitable for both the body and an exhibition stand, as demonstrated at the Vauxhall fashion scout exhibition space, during London Fashion Week last season. I met up with Una, earlier this week to find out what she’s been up to since and what she has in-store for us this season:

 As I enter Una’s studio in south London, I am greeted with the beautiful strong smell of leather that’s being emitted from various armour-like pieces dotted around the room. My eyes are drawn to one sculptural piece in particular; ‘Everybody seems to loves that one’ Una says whilst catching my gaze. ‘The leather has darkened now though and it’s a bit worn.’ This is not surprising, as this delicate bodice and many others from the A.W 2010 collection, RE.TREAT, have been requested for wear by celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Fergie, as well as numerous stylists and photographers, (most recently David Bailey and David Sims) to shoot for fashion magazines world wide. On her desk, Una has stacked copies of the magazines in question, which titles include Vogue Italia and Numero, whilst on her walls she hangs posters from exhibitions and events she has presented at: Una is extremely proud of her accomplishments as a designer but in a rather modest and humble way. When asked ‘what has been your greatest achievement so far?’ Una can’t name just one. “There are so many to be honest; I’ve been incredibly lucky. There are so many designers who are extremely talented and would give their left arm for any one of the opportunities I’ve had” “…but being involved in ITS8 was really amazing” “…And to have Lady Gaga wanting to wear my work - I mean she has the choice of everyone in the world only to come and ask me!” And the list goes on: she tells me about when several of her pieces were taken to the Namibian desert to be shot for a fashion film called ‘Sand People’, how she was named by Vogue Italia amongst the ‘140 new emerging design talent’ and invited by them to show her portfolio during Milan Fashion Week in September 2009, and how she was featured on as one of Patti Wilson’s favorite emerging designers. And, if there’s one thing for certain, it’s that Una is talented…

I am interested to know if and how exhibiting with Vauxhall Fashion Scout last season helped you as a designer?
Yeah definitely, I have had some great publicity and it was good also as it meant that it put me in touch with the people that I needed to be put in touch with here and there; the support from people like Martyn, the director, is great. It’s genuine at Vauxhall Fashion Scout and they offer the real help that you need in the fashion world. 

Your A.W 2010/11 collection was very conceptual, driven by your research into human trauma- what has been your inspiration behind this latest collection? Well it’s still coming from that point, as I’m using the same construction that I devised through doing that research, but I’m making some more useable pieces so people who have admired my work in the past can actually purchase a piece of it that they can really wear. I seem to just have this style that always comes out when I come to play around. 

Where would you love too see these new pieces stocked?

Browns Focus as that’s where a lot of emerging designers’ work is sold, and I think that’s where a lot of people go to when they’re looking for interesting and new pieces.
There’s also a Store in San Francisco called Circle & Square, who have been asking for some bags from me for about a year now.

How would you describe your working process?

Well how I design is with experimentation: I take a piece of leather, twist it, turn it and attach it different ways together and then I’ll apply that to different areas of the body.

Why did you choose leather crafting as your specialism?
I’m not quite sure; it just seems to be something that I’m drawn to. I think it’s because I have such a respect for the heritage of leather working and I think It's bad when traditional crafts are dismissed. The idea of creating something with your hands is such an amazing gift and its so satisfying... I find it sad that people don’t appreciate it as much anymore.

You have previously done some work at Philip Treacy: That must have been inspiring… The reason I wanted to work with Philip in particular is because his work is very sculptural and quite bizarre - I mean who would have thought about putting a boat on their head? His pieces are fashion but very much art as well. I think that’s what I appreciated about working with him: He is very inspiring and for me what I found incredible was the idea of doing art pieces that you wear.

Who would you love to dress? Madonna of course!  Also, Bjork and Tilda Swinton, they’re all such strong characters.
…and actually Daphne Guinness wore one of my pieces recently for the new NARS cosmetics ad campaign and she is someone incredible whom I’ve always wanted to wear my work.

You have in the past described your work as ‘wearable pieces of art’ - do you consider your self then as an artist or a fashion designer? A bit of both. I’ve always had this kind of internal argument of where I want to be. Whilst at college my mind eventually set on fashion but then every time I was doing a fashion project there was always an art element to it, which was very conceptual. At this stage it’s funny because I’ve seem to have come full circle and I’m back at that internal argument with my self as I’m not sure which way I’m going again. I think what I would really love to do is keep pushing fashion but then every couple of years create something very artistic, designed for exhibition.

Una’s latest collection will be exhibited with Vauxhall Fashion Scout in both London and Paris for the SS11 Showcase.


Sarah Barlow