Following in the footsteps of many creative countrymen, Irish designer Una Burke has adopted London as her professional hometown. She has taken both the fashion and art worlds by storm with her latest collection of edgy, architectural designs that fit to the body like mannequin-inspired, bondage pieces. The work has received widespread acclaim, including features in international magazines (Vogue Italia, Pimp, Plastique and E-machina) as well as displayed in galleries in London, New York, Trieste, Zurich and Vienna. Burke has clearly made her mark as an impressive innovator to watch.
Una Burke: In 1998 I began to study Fashion Design in Limerick School of Art and Design, after which I worked with several design companies in Ireland and London. These included Philip Treacy, Helen Cody, Edmond Chesneau, Burberry and Smythson. After some time I decided to return to studying and in January 2009 completed an MA in Fashion Artefact, a new course at London College of Fashion. My final project was very abstract and attracted the attention of stylists and photographers in the UK, Germany, Austria, Italy and the US. This was the start of my label.
JCR: What or who inspires your work?
UB: My work is inspired by my interest in psychology and human behavior, which influences the materials that I work with, the structure of the pieces and the method of construction. It also results in several levels of symbolism within the pieces that I produce.
UB: I have developed a series of eight pieces, each moulded into the form of a human gesture that can be associated with the physical and psychological effects as well as the recovery stages of a traumatic event. These pieces are completely constructed from undyed vegetable tanned bovine leather, indicative of Caucasian flesh. I have a great appreciation for hand crafted products and the amount of physical effort that is involved, so I have used the highest quality materials and traditional techniques of construction. Each piece can be worn in an avant-garde fashion sense, but can also be displayed in a gallery environment as an art installation.
JCR: How are you dealing with this widespread reception?
UB: I am now developing some smaller and more commercial body pieces which will be sold at Coco De Mer, in London, LA and New York and a range of handbags to be sold in Circle and Square in San Francisco. I intend to develop a number of more abstract pieces each year and hope to collaborate with catwalk designers, creating sculptural pieces for their shows.
UB: My best accomplishment so far has to be the fact that I have developed a body of work which crosses all boundaries of race, color and creed. It can be understood in both the fashion world—because of the way that it enhances the female form—and also the art world as it is a universal language of physical gestures which people genuinely feel a connection to.
JCR: What is it about London that makes it a fantastic place to work in?
UB: London is a great place to work because it has such a diverse culture and people are very open to new ideas and to change. There are always opportunities to meet other creative people for collaboration and there’s also a fantastic range of creative and literary resources within easy access.
JCR: Any fashion idols?
UB: I have always admired people like Hussein Chalayan or Viktor & Rolf who bring new elements into the world of fashion, such as extreme technology and political commentary. It is not easy to do this because you make your work more abstract and it is open to more criticism. But I think that this quality is very important as it makes the work more interesting and relevant on a deeper level than just being for the sake of beauty.