Delicate savage with Burbo K'ture
Birmingham designer Paul "Burbo" Burbridge has a unique take to his fashion design. He calls his approach to fashion 'delicate savage' due to the primal edge of many of his designs in which he he exposes the garment's seams an threads. Having grown up as a singer in a punk band in the 80s, his designs often showcase androgyny and punk. Here to speak about his experiences as both a designer and lecturer in fashion design, is an interview with Burbo Burbridge.
How did you get into fashion?
I was always creative. I was a teenager in the 80s, a time when music and aesthetics went very much hand in hand. A band or artist wouldn’t get signed unless they had a very distinct look or image. That was a big influence on me, and when I started performing and singing I customised my garments and added my own embellishments to them. I loved to do things with my hands creatively. Its not something that I thought, oh let me have a go at that. It came very organically.
Did you follow any Fashion Design courses?
No, I bought a sewing machine and pieces of fabric and would play around with the shapes to make them wearable. I did go to textile college and did two terms there, but my head tutor advised me that although I would be able to study Fashion Design at Bath University, it would not be the best path for me. I was a mature student at the time and so my tutor warned me that I would get out of the three year course with a lot of debt and no guaranteed job. At the time, I had been already offered a well-paid job in the hotel trade and so I took the job and used that money to start my own label.
You must have been quite close with your tutor to get such important advice?
As I was a mature student, I was very close to the tutors in age and had a close relationship with them. In some of the classes we would be discussing fashion in the 80's and I would know more than the tutor as I was actually there! ! Another tutor might have advised me to go and pursue a fashion design degree, but she could see that I had a natural affinity and ability with fabric and whatever that took me, I was going to make something from it.
Why did you name your brand Burbo K’Ture?
Burbo is my nickname and 'kture' is a bit of a side eye at the word couture. The K worked well too because of the punk nature of my designs. Then when I put it all together, the word Burbo K'Ture just sounded like a real company. Originally, I wanted to name my brand 'Burbo', but there is already a massive bank called Burbo.
Why do you choose to incorporate androgyny within your brand?
I was a teenager in the 80s and a lot of the musical artists like Boy George, Annie Lennox and Alison Moyet were pushing androgyny so the whole mixed message when it comes to gender is part of my creative DNA. That’s just gone forward really.
Are many of your clients androgynous?
Not necessarily. My client base is very much over the age of 30, they are independent business women who make their own money, think for themselves and have an underlying rebellion to them. They’re business women who are playing their own game. They’re wearing what they want to wear, not the classical white and black two pieces.
Do you also design for men?
I design for quite a lot of younger men, who are finding their way. I think, men in particular, are more afraid to express themselves with their clothes. I can only say from my own experience, during my teens and 20s I was very outrageous with my hair and clothes, and was constantly experimenting with different colours. Then, when I worked within the hotel industry, I had to wear a three piece suit everyday so my identity was kind of squashed. But when I got older, and became more comfortable with myself, I started to find my look. It definitely takes a lot longer with men than women to feel confident with themselves.
A lot of your work shows exposed seams and threads, why do you purposely decide to show these “flaws”?
I have a particular way of designing, which I called delicate savage. I will take stretchy jersey fabric and chop them into different shapes and stitch them together with wool or string to give it that tribal, handmade feel. It becomes this wearable piece of art. It's so beautiful as you can see each stitch, and know that I hand stitched it myself. However, you're always going to get those people who see my work and ask 'ew is that finished?'
You also work as a freelance lecturer for university fashion courses, what type of courses do you teach?
How it works, is that a university will bring me in to teach second term students in Fashion Design about the designing purely with creativity. I come in with a box of old clothes and assign the students to make garments out of them. They are not allowed to use scissors and literally have to tear the pieces apart to make something. The concept behind it is that you're stripping away the students' technical training, and forcing them to use their imagination again. Technical ability can dappen creativity. If you know the rules, you won't break them.
What are your thoughts about the UK creative education in general?
I heard a quote from a political commentator a few months ago about the UK education system in general, and I thought it was so well said. He said that university education in the UK should be free, but also much harder to get into. I think there are a lot of young people who feel obliged to study a subject at university, without have a deep-rooted interest in it, and that's very dangerous. This makes people who graduate from these higher institutions disillusioned, it's almost a false promise. When it comes to education and higher education, there really should be an emphasis on whether the student has a true passion for that subject.
Where are most of your customers based?
Ive got quite a few customers in New York, the North of England, Manchester, Leeds and of course London.
How do people in New York know about you?
I run my stuff through Etsy, which is an American company and a lot of their audience is American. I think when Americans see my work they associate it with the punk movement and British 80s music. That's why my New York clients are a bit more edgy, greenwich village, rock n roll types. They're buying a bit of punk from me.
If you could have any celebrity could wear your designs, who would it be?
Pete Burns and Daphne Guinness.