A graduate of fashion design from Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT), Burkin worked with Melbourne-based labels Sportsgirl and Bettina Liano before travelling to London in 1996 and furthering her experience with Katherine Hamnett. She returned to establish her signature high-fashion womenswear label Gwendolynne in 1997.
Her work reveals a fascination with the cut, construction and silhouette of historical dress but she is particularly drawn to the creative possibilities of dress components. The result is a complex melding of evocative forms, theatrical touches, and romantic overtones in very contemporary and wearable garments.
Gwendolynne's design concept - components of dress
'My journey through the Powerhouse Museum clothing and textiles collection told the tale of my outfit. The more items I chose the more I understood the nature of my creation. I chose pieces purely by personal taste and fascination with technique. In particular components of dress such as Jabots, detachable sleeves and collars, tie on pockets, and buttoned on bustles. This modular sense of dressing and the purpose of giving an outfit several permutations fascinates me.
'There were three items that built the foundations for the final design. Firstly the leg-of-mutton sleeve of a cream silk ottoman bodice from 1895. I became obsessed with the skill of the drape and cut of this sleeve and was intrigued by the way it was executed.
'Secondly a pair of barrette boots from 1896 with their delicate detailed closure and thirdly a pale blue and cream asymmetric silk tulle Jabot. The colour palette was inspired by a cotton drill corset with whalebone inserts from 1895. However my eventual search for cloths lead to an interpretation of these hues combining blue, green and pink but in different tones. As always the materials that I eventually found to assemble the outfit dictated how this piece would evolve. As a designer you are always restricted by what is available to you and you can never find what you are looking for!
'Milliner friend Richard Nylon and I have established a continual collaboration since my label began in November 1997. We decided to continue this relationship with Sourcing the Muse by interpreting two velvet cloth hats which where a mass of textures featuring asymmetric feather trimmings. A lady always wears a hat!
'I was also drawn to the whimsical and witty nature of beauty antidotes and advertising from the past. A play on different periods where things become amusing because of language that is outdated. Especially the Gay deceiver stocking package.
'As a result of my discoveries with the collection, my imagination leads me to create a female character immersed in her surroundings. I decided this woman would be a tribute to ladies of the past and their wonderful skills in handwork. Handwork that was an outward display of their eligibility as suitable wives yet a skill that is of little credit in today's society. From this thought I began to explore the collection of sewing boxes which I saw as "a shrine to handcraft". Then I began a search for porcelain dolls, as these tend to be the first victims of a young seamstress! I'm also fascinated with the innocence associated with dolls contrasted with the eerie uncertainty between animate and inanimate.
'I decided to call my character "Katherine Rose Fetherstonehaugh". As a designer who works within the boundaries of my intuition and personal taste I think her personality evolved to be somewhat an extension of myself! Katherine's life is passionate and aspires for acceptance and love. Thus honouring the nature of dress where individuals project their personality through their style. Katherine is advertising her skills in handwork through her dress to promote herself as a suitable companion.
'Finally a European crocodile skin handbag from 1941 inspired the claw gauntlet glove, which explores the ideas of Victorian mentality where middle class English women's sexuality was feared. It's as though Katherine's repressed sexual desire has turned her into part beast! In Victorian times women were taught that sexual desire was sinful through the power of the patriarch. Women were known to become hysterical as they had no way of expressing themselves as sexual beings and therefore became sexually repressed. The claw gauntlet glove embraces the theatrical side of my designs and the macabre elements of Victorian tales such as Lewis Carol's Alice in wonderland. Katherine wants "to get her claws into her man!"' - Gwendolynne Burkin