Gwendolynne Burkin’s fashion career spans twenty-five years. Most revered for her ethereal bridal collections, she’s also designed womenswear, street wear, coats and suiting.
Being in fashion for almost three decades, it’s little wonder that she gets nostalgic. Burkin recently found her original Gwendolynne label business plan, and rediscovered one of her main objectives when she launched in 1997. Back then, she acknowledged that it would take time to change the way things were. She got in touch with me recently, so we could return focus to that objective which got blurred over time.
Now, with a well-experienced, expert voice, Gwendolynne wants to remind people of her wholehearted, well-researched, healthy view on curvaceous women, and her desire to dress them.
We meet casually over a wine(s) at a Fitzroy pub. She smiles, and begins, “I recently did some research on the bridal genre, and there isn’t much choice out there for curvy brides. I want to remind women that they can come to us. We cater to anyone, and not just for bridal.”
So, what happens when an idealistic young woman opens her wholesale brand?
“When I started my ready to wear business (Gwendolynne), the goal was to create for sizes 6-16, but I found that retail store buyers would only range 8-10s. Yet, when I finally opened my signature boutique, sizes 12-16 would sell straight away.”
Gwendolynne remembers when she studied fashion at RMIT, she was a size 14 to 16 and wore sacks – all the time!
“Some years back this influx of sacks came from a lot of the international brands, and they’ve never really gone away. One day it occurred to me that the look did nothing for my shape, or my femininity. I decided then to start buying better, & making some of my own more fitted clothes. I felt amazing, and even started to lose weight, with an improved outlook and confidence boost.”
She says, “If you’re not evenly proportioned (which most of us are not), garments can hang off your bust and create bulk. It’s so hard to find clothes that show off a woman’s body, because everything’s oversized or ruched!”
She continues, “the standard Australian size 12 seat (or booty) is 102cm. But, of the size 12 brides I’ve worked with over the years, the average seat measures at 106cm. That’s almost a proper size difference!”
“MOST PEOPLE DON’T REALISE THAT A DRESS SIZE IS ACTUALLY 5CM.”
Interestingly, jean sizes jump up by only 2.5cm. Gwendolynne laughs as she tells me she suspects that when people brag about losing a dress size in a day, they mean 2.5cm, which isn’t entirely honest. She proclaims that our waists and boobs fluctuate, “they just do! Whether it’s from too much water or ovulation, bloating from a food allergy or whatever (tgw: babies/kebabs etc).”
I wonder if it’s not time for us all just to accept this version of who we are (right now), or work out, but stop pretending, and dress to fit our actual size? Though, my own wardrobe ranges from S-XL/AUS 10-14 – so my figure’s obviously haunted, or manufacturers are making it up as they go (laughing maniacally, all the while).
Gwendolynne tells me, “when I started working in the mid 80s, fabrics were much heavier, with less mechanical stretch. Crepe fabrics back then were horrible, scratchy, and stiff. Thanks to innovation with fabrics like spandex, and even silks… they’re stronger now, and more flattering.”
She references Joan Holloway, who plays Jonie on Mad Men, “she is curvy, beautiful and bold…but we have to consider the work behind achieving that statuesque persona. There is some excellent shapewear that goes into that look.”
“MODERN GIRLS DON’T UNDERSTAND – YOU CAN WEAR MORE FITTED LOOKS, BUT WEAR a good bra and SHAPE WEAR FOR A SMOOTH SILHOUETTE.”
From Gwendolynne’s point of view – a business woman who’s had her own brand for almost eighteen years – she refuses to acknowledge anyone currently doing broad size ranges with memorable quality, sizing or design aesthetic. She nods and can’t name a single brand.
“GIVEN THE CHANCE, I WOULD HAPPILY COLLABORATE WITH AN ESTABLISHED BRAND ON A FULLER FIGURE RANGE OF CLOTHING. I’d make it elegant, stylish, timeless and ethical.”
She adds, “I know how to pattern cut for a woman. I’ve worked for so many brands over the years. Pattern cutting is my thing. I’d love to do a range of classics or staples.” It appears that Gwendolynne looks forward to settling some style scores in the near future…which leads us to another contentious subject. I feel her physically bracing for the things that she’s about to say.
On the topic of only skinny models showing at collections….
“IT’S AMAZING HOW DESIGNERS ARE BLAMED FOR THE SIZE OF MODELS, BUT THERE ARE STYLISTS AND CASTING PEOPLE WHO PREFER A PARTICULAR SIZE. they are the ones who make cast the shows.”
Unbeknown to many, lots of people are involved behind-the-scenes at a fashion week event. Gwendolynne absolutely believes that many types of beauty should be shown on catwalks, but it’s a matter of her feeling priveledged to be invited, and graciously accepting certain circumstance. She says, “sometimes there are no redheads…sometimes at independent shows I’ll see Somalian beauties, and just a broader, more diverse mix of talent, which I adore.” Robyn Lawley is her current favourite model, but she explains that many of her favourite talent is booked exclusively to brands, so this can limit choices. Meeting Bella was incredible, but sadly she has now left Melbourne.
Our conversation then turns to social media, and Gwendolynne asks me when my peak readership time is? When I tell her I don’t know, she confirms that her best time to post is on Sundays at 2pm. I giggle at her precision (but the lady knows!) I blame the wine for my ineptitude. We both agree that Instagram is, on-the-whole, a positive community for people to gather and appreciate beauty (yet there are also the trolls, a true modern blight).
She brings my attention to an entire network of women in social media who are fed up with being called ‘plus size’ (look up: #droptheplus on Instagram). When I look through the images of these supposed ‘plus size women’, I’m aghast. What is the new reality? It’s crazy.
“I felt most insecure when I focussed on an unrealistic body size. I was more obsessive about it then – it consumed my head space. I’m so much happier now that I’ve just relaxed into my own body. I am less concerned by it.”
Overall, Gwendolynne encourages us all to be more fashionably sustainable, seek out beautiful fabrics, buy less and buy better.
Curvy women are welcome at Gwendolynne. They always have been.
Tips for making the most of your curves
- If you’re buying off the rack, buy from a brand you know fits you well.
- Youth brands are generally smaller, as they are meant for teens and twenty-somethings.
- Better brands are more generous in size – they have nicer fabrics, are longer cut in the body, and are generally cut better than the high street brands.
- If a dress is cut too tight, it rides up your hips, and you’ll be constantly pulling it down
- Remember: the difference between a dress size is 5cm, and a jean size is 2.5cm
- For fitted looks, invest in some good shapewear to keep your silhouette smooth
For all enquiries, visit the Gwendolynne website here