Brisbane-based designer/maker Rachel Burke is having a moment right now. Her spectacular tinsel jackets have caused QUITE a stir on Instagram (follow, immediately), and have graced the shoulders of sparkle-loving celebs, including Meghan Trainor and Danii Minogue, to name a few!
But there’s much more to Rachel than tinsel. The former musical theatre student’s diverse career history includes stints as a fashion stylist for Frankie Magazine, five years working as a senior womenswear designer, and a book published by Hardie Grant (with another on the way!). Her clients include UNIQLO, The Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, BONDS, Splendour in the Grass, Queensland Ballet, Melbourne Central, and many more!
Rachel teeters the fine line between art, craft and commercial design… her creative projects span sculpture, wearable art, and photographic works. Before tinsel, she spent a few years making a HEAP of pom poms, and created a communal art project called Apomogy, encouraging people to apologise through pom-pom making. YES. (Watch her TED Talk to learn more!).
Read on for an insight into the wonderful, colourful world of Rachel Burke… something tells me this clever cookie is destined for very big things!
tell us a little bit about your background – what led you to craft, dressmaking and your sparkly creations?
I never formally studied design, instead I studied Musical Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts. I decided to leave that degree in 2009, and at the time had absolutely no idea what I was going to do next.
That was a time of panic – I wanted to find something new that I was excited about. I started making clothes and accessories for friends, documenting the process on my blog I Make You Wear It. My first big project was making a dress a day for a year, which was an amazing exercise in coming up with new ideas under time pressure. During that year I used lots of tactile and craft-based materials in my designs – I was constantly trying to come up with innovative pieces to feature on my site.
how did this evolve into a career?
Running my blog and eventually starting my first label Yellowcake forced me to wear many hats – I learned how to plan collections, style editorials, make props, take photographs, and operate a website. In doing all this I picked up a diverse range of skills, which eventually allowed me to transition into working with commercial clients.
A few years ago I was asked by Frankie Magazine to begin styling their fashion editorials. This was a real turning point for me, as it gave me the experience and confidence to continuously come up with new ideas, execute briefs, and translate feedback into work I was really proud of.
For the last five years, I have juggled all my projects around working full-time as a Senior Womenswear Designer for a commercial retailer (which has been a true challenge), but I have actually just resigned from this position! As such, soon I will be able to focus all my time on my own creative projects.
Where do you typically create your work, and can you tell us about the techniques and materials you use?
I create solely in my studio at home in Brisbane, working until all hours of the night to sew my tinsel creations and work on any other projects I have on the go. I sew all my garments on one very old (but much loved) Janome sewing machine and use vintage pieces of clothing as the bases to nearly all my embellished works. I love this process of breathing new life into old things.
Can you tell us about your latest tinsel jackets, and What goes into creating each of these unique pieces?
My latest pieces are all part of my first collection of tinsel jackets called Tinsel Town. The inspiration for each jacket was to explore the collision between the extraordinary and the mundane, which is why I often photograph the pieces in muted, suburban, settings.
Each jacket is made using an up-cycled base and sewn with masses of tinsel. The garments take around 4-5 hours to customize, depending on the size or colour mix. This process of transforming an old, discarded piece of clothing and making it into something new and spectacular is something really special.
I have begun designing/making my new collection, which will be released in March.
Was there a particular moment that inspired these style of garment, and how long you have been working on these?
My first tinsel jacket was inspired by and made for my good pal Patience Hodgson (The Grates) to wear in her Splendour in The Grass performance. She is such a vibrant person, I wanted to create something that was a natural extension of her spectacular stage presence. The jacket I made for her was a really big, showy, piece, made to stand out on stage. I received such an amazing response from the costume, and as such, I decided to experiment with how I could make a simplified, more wearable versions.
I have been working on these pieces for the last 2 years, mainly selling one key rainbow design on my Etsy store. However, late last year I launched my first proper collection and website, and have been inundated with orders ever since. It’s been really amazing and surreal to see how much people love and connect with these pieces.
What is the most exciting thing about pursuing this unique craft?
The most exciting thing is developing styles that I know will make people stand out and make a splash in! I love wearing these tinsel pieces myself, as they are such a conversation starter, and boy do I love a chat. Also, it has been SO exciting to wake up to emails from artists all over the world asking to make them custom pieces. This is one of my most favourite things!
The biggest challenge has just been trying to complete all the orders around a full-time job. Trying to juggle both things has meant that I have been pulling some very late nights!
What’s next for Rachel Burke?
Now that I have resigned from my fulltime job, I am really looking forward to (for the first time EVER) devoting all my time to making things for my brand and working on my various creative projects.
I have a few things in the works right now, including a big installation project at a new gallery, some exciting collaborations, and my first craft book coming out in September with Hardie Grant.
What pushes you to keep up all the long, testing work?
I have been lucky enough to receive some really positive feedback from customers and followers on my social media. I have also been lucky to supply tinsel pieces to some really amazing people including Meghan Trainor, Danii Minogue, Em Rusicano, Justine Clarke, and the Brisbane band Sheppard for their latest video clip ‘Coming Home’!
Seeing people wear or engage with my works is the best feedback there is for me!