Today I got to interview Irish designer Fionnuala Bourke. a graduate from the Limerick Art & Design College (where I also study), Fionnuala has gone onto great success.She appeared in the final season of Project Catwalk with Kelly Osbourne,has designed for top drag artists,dancers and is currently working on her new collection. I spoke to her about her inspirations,experience on the show and her hopes for the future.
1 - As a designer where do you draw your inspiration from?
I draw my inspiration from many places, in the past I’ve used old photograph albums and pattern books from my grandparents costume shop to come up with my degree collection. My granddad took photographs of everything, trips to America in the 50's, costumes, communions, and my aunts and uncles growing up, they are some amazing photos to have. I still use them - they are an endless source of inspiration. I also get a lot of inspiration from magazines, movies, and music; sometimes I will hear a song and l will see a catwalk in my head and see the finished piece on a model. I find it hard to draw what I see in my head, but when I go to draft a pattern I can visualise what should be 3D flat out on the paper.
2 - Tell me about your first collection and the experience of putting it out there...
My first major collection was my degree collection which was shown in the UL concert hall, and was based on my Grandparents costume shop "Bourke's" of Dame Street. It was street wear meets tailoring, and I used a cool colour palette of creams, whites, greys and greens. It was horrible/amazing experience all at once, I wasn't happy with the finished product but then you never are! There’s always more you could have done and more time you could have spent on something. It gets a little easier the more collections you put out, I showed a collection last summer at the Galway Fashion Revolution and it was the first collection so far that I sat back and relaxed and enjoyed the show, it’s exhilarating hearing oohs and ahhs and your collection being well received.
3 - Was it daunting making the transition from student designer to full time designer?
Well I feel I still am making that transition, I work as a visual merchandiser 30 hours a week and then I sew like mad the rest of the week, it is very daunting but worth it in the end when something goes to plan. You start to doubt yourself and your talent when things don't go your way, when people ask you to make something for them and choose to tell you when it’s too late that they don't like it, and they aren't going to wear what you have spent hours making, your crushed so it’s only natural to question what you’re doing. I’ve had a lot of that lately so I took a break from sewing for a while to reassess things, and now I'm back working on a new collection and my client jobs only include costume pieces now for drag queens like Victoria Secret and the amazing pole dancer Terri Walsh and the Fierce Fitness pole dancers. I find that kind of thing now much more fulfilling, going to the show, seeing your work in action, and you’re creating a real show piece, something you would never make to sell in a shop, I guess I'm following in the family costume business after all - and my new collection is still a work in progress but it’s the most grown up and wearable work I’ve ever done - so watch this space!
'Bourke with Kelly & Co. for Project Catwalk'
4 - Where you nervous entering Project Catwalk?
I was as nervous as hell but I just thought fuck it lets do this, I loved every minute of it. When I got to the final 100 in the interview stages I had to fly to London and do a mini project, so I flew over the night before and had my portfolio, project and everything for the interview in my suitcase. When I went to collect my bag off the plane it wasn't there!! Needless to say I was distraught, as I had to go the audition the next day in the same clothes id flown over in and with no project and portfolio!! (Luckily my best friend in London gave me a clean pair of knickers ha-ha!!) Somehow I made it through the final 100 and sailed through to the final 15 (they must have took pity on me the poor Irish girl!!) so at the end of the day when it was all over my suitcase arrived!! Looking back it was very funny and I thought this is the worst that can happen, I'm in now, so let’s do this!!
5 - Do you feel like the show served its purpose and helped you as a designer?
Well yes and no, in ways I wish I had never ever done the show and in other ways it was the best experience of my life, I made some great friends for life. It was long hard days but I was doing what I loved, it was exhilarating and exciting, and your adrenaline was constantly pumping. It was inspiring because you had to come up with ideas on the spot and each project was something different. On the other hand, it was hard being constantly criticised, and when I watched the show on TV I felt like I was the token Irish girl. I had friends and family ask me are you in the episode? it was hard just watching myself walk by in the background for the first few episodes, was I not exciting/loud/funny enough? it wasn't until it got to episode 3 or 4, when I was the team leader in a challenge that I finally got a little bit more air-time, and then by week 5 I was gone. I'm delighted I was involved in the show, it was the last year it was made, but it’s not something you should take on lightly, you need to be strong willed, and well able to stand up for yourself. Being on TV isn't going to make you an instant star, most of Ireland didn't even watch project catwalk, but it does give u a little heads up above the rest.
6 - Is the experience as stressful as it looks?
Even more so, when they say you have ten hours to make a gown u really do have ten hours, finished r not it’s going down that catwalk! I found it stressful because I had to work the opposite of how I do things, we had to design something and then go pick the fabric, I would mostly pick the fabric 1st with a basic design idea in my head but mainly let my fabric choice dictate my design, so I found it very hard to design first and just pray that you might find what you’re looking for fabric wise- this was the case in the episode when I was the team leader and we had to make a mini festival inspired collection for fire-trap. Designs were discussed, and we had denim and print ideas in our heads and I assigned Angie to go pick the fabric and she came back with stuff I can only describe as rancid!! awful awful awful!! so all I cud do was curse and curse I did, beeps every 2 seconds, so I had to go have a cup of tea, look at the fabrics and think right what the hell can we do with these, in the end it all worked out ( I was bloody lucky to have Jasper Garvida on my team he's unreal and just took it all in his stride and came up with an amazing look) I felt it unfair that the judges then slated our fabric choice at the end, were they not informed that we were working with whatever the hell our team mate came back with?i was more concentrating on our collection aesthetic, that we had a mix on lengths and styles, we had skinny jeans, baggy cropped denims, and a denim mini, we had over sized cardigan and cropped denim and a jacket, and nice tops, all in all a cohesive collection (despite the horrible fabric).
'Bourke's designs worn at Strictly Come Pole Dancing at the George,Dublin'
7 - Tell me about your new collection and what has inspired it?
Well I’ve gone through a lot of personal changes in the last year and I’ve done a hell of a lot of growing up, I took a bit of time off for myself and didn’t even go near my sewing machine!! you come back to your designs with a fresh set of eyes, and my style has kind of evolved from there, I wear a lot more dresses now (you used to never catch me in a guna) so it’s only natural I started designing more dresses, I have a lot of pieces that can be interchanged to create lots of different looks. I’ve gone for a more grown up look, with a colourful, urban edge, lots of layering, textures, and printed fabrics.
8 - You say you are rebranding yourself as a designer. . Explain the decision for a change?
Well about a year ago I had a lot going on and I took on a lot of jobs with didn't satisfy me as a designer, and I got to a point where I was run down and I even thought about giving it up all together, but u can never stay away from what you love for too long. As I’ve already said I’ve been though a lot in the past year, and have gone through a lot of personal changes, when your world has been turned upside down you look at things a hell of a lot differently , so it’s only right that it should affect your designing also. My style is a lot simpler, sophisticated and grown up, and I want to start selling my pieces in boutiques so I feel that a total clean slate and re branding is essential. it’s funny because my costume work is far from simple, its flashy and flamboyant, I think it’s good to show different sides to yourself, I'm able to design wearable, trendy pieces and then design something a drag queen or a dancer is going to wear performing on stage.
'With top Irish drag star Victoria 'tori'Secret who was wearing Bourke's design for Pride 10'.
9 - What are your plans and expectations for the next year or two?
Well I hope to be selling in shops around Ireland in the next 2 years and be working entirely for myself (and no full time job on the side); I’d love to be featured in some of Ireland's top fashion magazines as well as maybe expose and the like ha-ha! Mainly I would just love to be well received by my peers and be selling well, designing well, and happy......and you never know maybe showing at Dublin fashion week....why stop there...London fashion week even!! It also loves to do more costume work, make more drag queens, performers, and pole dancers baling tastic!! You never know strictly come dancing could come a knocking!!
10 - What tips can you offer students who want to make a mark in the fashion world?
Never give up if it’s what you really want, it will all be worth it one day! I was different to some of my friends in college, they wanted to move to London or further afield, I wanted to work for myself, don't be put off by what other people are doing and just be confident in yourself - and don't ever be afraid to ask for help!!
Thank you to Fionnuala Bourke for the interview and for more information please visit her at www.fionnulabourke.com