Gwendolynne Burkin and Richard Nylon

No matter how splendidly well-dressed you feel, once milliner Richard Nylon and fashion designer Gwendolynne Burkin emerge from their time capsule, you question what era we're in.

Whatever the occasion, they either swan in as royals from the Elizabethan era, as rebirthed ambassadors of the Byzantine empire, or bondaged in lace, netting and beads as phantasms in a Fellini movie.

Fashion designer Gwendolynne Burkin and milliner Richard Nylon are celebrating 20 years of friendship. Photo: Eddie Jim

The duo are celebrating a 20-year friendship and collaboration, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of Melbourne Spring Fashion Week, which launched on August 29 with a runway show in Little Bourke Street. Nylon crafted a silk flower headpiece for model Elodie Russell in the official campaign and is adorning the models for fashion designer Jason Grech in Designer Runway 1 on September 2. Burkin is also showing her collection in that show at the Melbourne Town Hall.

Melbourne's costume-box aesthetes met at Burkin's 22nd birthday – a full-moon party – and shared a love of dressing up. "I thought he was fabulous but I was scared of him," she said. He was really a softie, like the flannel shirts he wore in those days, so they shared a house and hit dance parties costumed to the nines.


The pair at the opening of the 'Love, Desire and Riches' exhibition in June. Photo: Shaney Balcombe

The duo, who have shared a Fitzroy salon for 12 years, are in demand on guest lists to sprinkle their glittering accessories and grateful for their place on the social ladder. "If you are invited to something flash and glam, you have to make an effort," Nylon said. And if that means encasing his head in a lace mask and drinking from a straw, he will do it.

Richard Nylon and Gwendolynne Burkin
Richard Nylon and Gwendolynne Burkin

Burkin makes dreamy wedding gowns and has a staff of 14. Nylon, with his trusty Bernina sewing machine, toils for love, not money, and has to work at Myer two days a week as a sales assistant in the women's designer department to pay the mortgage. His sister, Hilary, helps with emails and accounting, and mother Shirley is an expert stitcher. His assistant, Kristine Walker, also dresses spectacularly when accompanying the duo in the dark of the night.

In this social-media age when anyone who points their camera down at their ripped jeans and shoes calls themselves a fashion blogger, Nylon and Burkin are the real deal.

Both had humble beginnings, and they are thrifty and resourceful. They do not seek celebrities to wear their creations and their sensibilities are utterly offended by the freebie hunters. When Burkin made an "elegant" dress for the Brownlow, a wealthy footballer's wife demanded to be dressed. Footballers are handsomely rewarded for kicking a ball, so: "They should be supporting us with our creativity."

Nylon has made hats for Dame Edna Everage, Kate Bosworth and Chloe Sevigny but said: "They don't make your business." The milliner looks like he has emerged from the 1800s, so he quoted the late poet Hilaire Belloc: "It is the business of the wealthy man. To give employment to the artisan."

Knowing each other so well, they debrief, jubilate and commiserate. Nylon said about himself: "I can be a moody bastard."

Burkin: "I can be particular."

Nylon explained: "She has a vision and it's her vision."

It's a successful one because they're survivors in the price-hopping era of spoilt-for-choice consumers surfing the net to check out online retailers. "We're still here," Nylon declared. "It's hard work."

Especially deciding what to wear and from what era.

Original story by Suzanne Carbone for  The Age