With Irish fashion drowning in a sea of wool and knits, Fashion Editor Kieran Murphy interviews the shining light in Irish design that is Fionnuala Bourke.
When you consider Irish fashion, you might be tempted to turn towards Phillip Tracy’s eccentric hats or else be swamped with images of Orla Kiely’s mindless prints, but in an industry that’s been damaged by Ireland losing their designers to emigration and an undercurrent sense of staleness there is a fresh of breath air with the designs of Fionnuala Bourke.
Based in County Kildare, Fionnuala studied fashion at the Limerick School of Art and Design and showed her first collection at a fashion show in Limerick City. Soon after graduating she was a contestant on Project Catwalk and now makes custom pieces for the likes of Dublin drag queens Victoria Secret and Davina Devine, Rebecca Creighton of the X-Factor and many former Miss Ireland pageants.
However she didn’t always want to work in fashion, originally aspiring to work as a potter for Denby but as Fionnuala explains it was in her blood, “My grandparents were costume makers based on Dame Street and they ran the family business for a very long time so sewing and making was always in my blood.” When Fionnuala started in LSAD she found that she had reached her full potential in the medium and then turned towards fashion design.
Her first collection which was shown in Limerick 6 months after finishing her degree and was more adventurous than anything Fionnuala had created in college. “I created all these slightly crazy quirky stuff with aluminous orange and black with black beading. I suppose in a way that this collection was probably a defining moment in my story because without that I might just be working in a shop.” It was with this collection that Fionnuala used for her audition for Project Catwalk.
When speaking about her time on the show Fionnuala asserts that her time there helped her define herself as a designer. “The show is very true to life and I can literally churn out the work now. It really puts on the pressure and lets you know how much you’re able to make in a day. I made a reversible coat for a man in 8 hours and I had never done menswear before. I’m actually still baffled that that’s even possible.”
Fionnuala made it half way through the competition and after returning to Ireland she struggled to find her niche. “I designed dresses but I still wasn’t finding what was me. I was still falling into this pattern of Irish designers designing ‘nice’ clothes. I was becoming really stagnant and stale and then two years ago I met Victoria Secret, an extremely flamboyant Dublin drag queen, who wanted something made for Dublin pride.”
Since then the floodgates to Fionnuala creativity had been opened. “I’ve always had these weird whacky ideas for things but I thought oh, they’re not stuff we do in Ireland but now I’ll just do it if I like and I will create these wild and crazy outfits. It’s outfits for the stage but the whole concept needs to be taken to the next level. Maybe things could become detachable and you can take it off and then you become like a space warrior. It’s really made me an even better designer because these crazy outfits then make me able to design a more tame version of what Victoria might wear for a girl heading out on a Saturday night in Dublin.”
But what’s next for Fionnuala as a designer? Will we be seeing her clothes in the likes of Brown Thomas soon? “I would love to do a collection again soon but I get bored very easily. I don’t enjoy making the same thing again and again as in mass marketing stuff. I would love to just work away in a house in the country with a studio attached and have the likes of Katy Perry and other people all over the world coming to me wanting costumes made. Way back in the day my grandparents were famous costumiers and people still say to me are you one of the Bourkes because they were very famous and worked in all the theatres so one day I’ll get the name back up there.”