By Nadia Michel
Una Burke makes unconventional leather accessories that shock a little before they seduce. Handcrafted from premium leather in her London atelier, it’s no wonder they’re favored by collectors and costume designers alike.
Why did you choose leather to create your accessories?
I love the strength and longevity of this material along with its rich history and heritage. The processes of hand-crafting something from raw material to finished product gives me a great sense of satisfaction and also results in each single piece having its own unique character. Having grown up farming sheep and cattle with my father, I have a genuine understanding, appreciation and respect for the life of an animal and in this, the animal’s skin which I choose to work with. Leather has a very strong nature and once this is respected then great things can be achieved. Disrespect its nature and you will struggle with it.
I believe that I have also inherited a set of values and the hands for leatherworking from my paternal grandfather, who was a cobbler. Though I never had the chance to learn directly from him, I believe my passion for this material and my natural inclination to work with it has indirectly come in the genes.
I enjoy creating structural and sculptural forms and vegetable tanned cowhide allows me to do this. I have always intended for my use of traditional leatherworking techniques in the making of contemporary art and design objects, to create a new awareness of this material and I can now see a huge resurgence in the craft of leatherworking across the world since I first began working with this material over fifteen years ago.
How would you define the look your accessories evoke?
I always aim to have my accessories exude strength of character and a toughness or warrior-like quality. Whether they are loved or hated by the viewer, the most important thing for me is that my designs are never boring or bland.
Which of your accessories is your personal favorite and why?
I love the Shell Bag most of all, I think it is my most iconic piece to date and has stayed with me through almost every collection, constantly evolving into a more detailed and luxurious piece. It perfectly demonstrates the unique Úna Burke design aesthetic and complex construction technique. For this season we have added a luscious new lambskin lining and some other clever detailing to the interior, those secret little elements of luxury that only the user knows.
Describe the woman who loves to wear Una Burke
The Úna Burke woman has great strength of character. I aim to capture the essence of different types of women through the various products I create. The large dramatic body pieces represent the outwardly confident woman whereas the smaller pieces like the bracelets signify the woman with inner strength. Meanwhile the belts and handbags come in between as the quietly confident woman. I would consider myself to be somewhere in between and would wear mostly the bracelets, belts and handbags. I’m not a huge fan of the limelight, so I only wear the body pieces on certain occasions. Being a woman I know how it feels to wear these pieces and I how they deliberately alter the posture and confidence of the wearer. I believe this adds a sincerity and truth to the pieces that I produce and that this comes through in the products, adding value on a level that no mass-produced product can ever reach.
What inspires your designs?
I am inspired by all things human. Human nature, the human mind and human emotions are usually at the core of my concepts and I create my forms in response to this, around the human body. I also look to military memorabilia to represent the inner strength and protective barriers relating to the human psyche and use these to create pieces that will give confidence to the wearer.