I discovered the magic of dress ups through my childhood play. Draped in white sheets I’d prance about our lounge room, my imagination transporting me to elegant worlds far from the foothills of the Adelaide suburbs I grew up in. My families’ antique heirlooms shipped from England with us when we moved to Australia in the early 70s provided additional inspiration for adventures. The pieces included watercolour paintings of elegant ladies in gowns dancing to a handsome dandy pianist. Then there was the decorative plaster patterned hand painted Chinoiserie furniture with detailed pictures of worlds hidden under the rich royal blue velvet pillows. I’d often daydream I was in those decadently patterned scenes of cherry blossom, bridges and elegant ladies.
For a while I wanted to be a ballerina but soon learnt it was the costume, look and grace of the dancers that possessed me and my hobby for sewing took precedent over the dance itself. I was always making things. With my first cheque I received from working I bought two books one on craft and the other on ballet.
A textiles and art nerd I’d frequent the art and sewing rooms at lunch. I would get scolded at school as my sewing productivity which was so immense my teachers didn’t believe I did it all myself! However my mother must take credit for her tireless encouragement and guidance being a keen sewer herself. Always reminding me to read the instructions carefully and being a spruiker for quality over quantity.
As a teen the love of dress ups evolved from play to ego, and I crafted clothing to try and fit in. Like all teens they were layers to hide my insecurities whilst I discovered who I really was. Much of this drive was a desire to be liked and appear as wealthy as some of the affluent girls I went to school with. My schoolmates would often copy what I wore which I found a little annoying then but in time realised this was a gift that people liked what I created or wore. At 14 I became a fabric sales assistant where I picked up some of my first paid dressmaking commissions, forming a solid foundation for my trade.
Decades later I still learn and continue to pursue mastering the crafting of clothing shedding the ego from the process, now seeing it as a gift I can share with others; That intoxicating feeling and escapism of adorning oneself in something beautiful and flattering and that truly reflects who you are.
After a successful beginning of my career working in an array of fashion businesses from high-end designer to corporate I had a distinct pull to focus on product that I felt was beautiful, timeless & ethical. Working for others I witnessed first hand how much volume of I’ll conceived product was being introduced into the environment and how disconnected many of the product developers & designers were to their customers. It didn’t “feel” right. So at 25 I chose to enrich my soul by making hand made timeless beautiful pieces in small quantity in Australia. I knew it would be a challenge and many told me not to do it but I had this natural skill as a pattern maker so I felt confident I could fall back on that if it all didn’t work out. For the first four or so years I sewed much of the collections myself whilst working other jobs. Now almost 22 years later I am still going!
What excites me most about crafting gowns for my clients is transferring the joy of that incredible feeling when one wears a beautiful unique creation. Particularly a piece that is made specifically to measure for you on such a momentous day in ones life. Whether that be a grand formal event, a notable birthday or a wedding. A bespoke piece is a rare experience that modern people only dabble in perhaps only ever once in their life for a wedding, when once upon a time it was the norm.
The longer I do this the more I have reflected and refined my purpose so my pursuit is fulfilling and not all consuming. Rather than being a prominent shopping strip I like to be hidden in the back streets of Fitzroy where I connect to the vibe and the customer I attract. I remain true to what I create and don’t make the stock uniform gowns that are a dime a dozen. Because I feel why would you want to wear a uniform at such a special moment in your life? Also I TRY to design as sustainably as possible some of our two-piece gowns can easily be reworn with a different coloured slip underneath for formal events.
I am so proud of my boutique I wanted it to feel like guests were visiting an elegant aunties house with a warm inviting vibe. Having the atelier upstairs means we can be 100% transparent you can meet the makers and see where your gown is crafted. I love the peace and calm of being off the main strip and I feel blessed that my creative space is more of a home than the grind of a loud, busy and bright corporate environment. Often clients express how calming and relaxing the experience & our space is. And acquiring a gown can be overwhelming so I always aim to create an experience that is not intimidating and encourage clients to do some preparation before they visit. Because I make in Australia my designs immediately must be luxury due to the high labour & overhead costs so that in itself can be intimidating but I am proud to keep my product local.
Basically I LOVE so much fashion and so many styles I meet girls who have never ever worn dresses to theatre performers who want to add more and more (If we meet you’ll see I still enjoy playing dress ups at work!) and I confess I found myself often in a pickle narrowing down my collections designing way more than I could afford to make! So I taught myself an intuitive approach to design, which is basically a technique to edit my ideas by tuning into the feeling that the piece resonates with me. Later in life I have realised it is a true connection to my higher self a creative part of me that I intend to explore more and more as I continue this creative journey. The enchantment, energy and positive vibrations and transformative power entwined in the wearing of beautiful clothing will always be something that drives me. I’d love to share the magical experience of what I do so feel free to send me a message.
Gwendolynne Burkin was born in Germany in 1971, raised in Adelaide, and has been based in Melbourne since 1989. Her first memory making a dress was when was at six. Gwendolynne formally entered the fashion trade at 14 as a fabric sales assistant where she took on various dressmaking jobs. At 15 she was a fashion presenter for a children’s television show “C’mon Kids”in Adelaide on Channel 9 with a puppet called Winky Dink.
A budding entrepreneur, she started creating hats and selling them to chic Melbourne boutiques while she was studying fashion in the late 1980s. At 19 Gwendolynne graduated from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, where she completed a BA in Fashion Design.
Burkin accumulated almost a decade of professional fashion experience working for commercial and elite international and independent Australian businesses where she gained experience as a pattern maker, designer and machinist. Her signature label ‘Gwendolynne’ commenced in November 1997 and the first collection was launched at the Melbourne Fashion Festival New Generation Parade in 1998.
Gwendolynne has acquired an impressive and extensive list of achievements. Her designs: have won Fashions on the Field at the Dubai World Cup; were exhibited at the Powerhouse Museum Sydney; appeared in Mercedes advertising campaigns; featured in international Nokia and Sony advertising campaigns; have been commissioned for the Australian Ballet; Eurovision, are showcased at The Salvador Dali ongoing collection in Milan and have been seen on countless celebrities at red carpet events. Gwendolynne was also selected as the first Designer to create a range for Target Australia.
Gwendolynne Burkin has established herself as one of Australia’s fashion purists; she works with intuition, avoids fashion trends, and remains true to her own sense of style and obsession with creating beautiful unique designs. Gwendolynne design approach explores tradition in a modern context, each collection evolving in a well-versed blend of historical references.
Combining delicate fabric with antique-style trimmings, Gwendolynne's pieces are ladylike without appearing over the top - the styling is elegant, sensual and romantic. Gwendolynne’s intuitive approach to her work has resulted in a unique signature look with details that include luxurious couture hand embellishment (some featuring fresh water pearls and Swarovski crystals) and exclusive fabrics (such as French, Swiss and Italian lace).
Gwendolynne’s relentless pursuit of timeless beauty appeals to clients seeking gowns for special events and contemporary brides who want to invest in designs that can be worn again.
“I love working with beautiful exclusive fabrics and designing my own embellishments. My design philosophy is to create timeless beauty; I choose to work in small quantities in order to maintain quality, exclusivity and longevity.”
Gwendolynne has also showcased collections in Beijing, London, New York and Singapore; her ready-to-wear line has been stocked in Australia and internationally. Gwendolynne Burkin has developed an enviable reputation as a Melbourne-based fashion design.