Is there a more joyous inspiration than Brisbane-based creative queen, princess of palette play, and dame of the dazzling, Rachel Burke? We think not. For years she's inspired with her optimistic creations - from her iconic tinsel jackets, her sunglasses that Elton John would go ga-ga over (and so would Gaga for that matter), and her radiant demeanour.
We got lucky enough to chat with the tinsel maven herself - an artist, author, designer and mum of Hugo (ok and of Daisy the daschund, too) - about tinsel, pipe cleaners and all the great stuff in between (and there's a lot, but it's one heck of a fun ride!).
Welcome to the wonderful world of Rachel Burke.
Queen of Tinsel, tell us who you are and what you want us to know about you: Hiya! I am Rachel! I live in Brisbane with my little fam - Thomas, Hugo and Daisy! I spend my days making the things that I fancy from my home studio and work across a range of mediums in the process! I make wearable art pieces (many made from tinsel) and also create sculpture and surface designs using mundane materials. I love a $2 shop.
Where do you live and what do you love about it? I live in Brisbane and have actually just moved house - literally a few streets away, but I feel like I’m in a whole new world! I love the little coffee shop in my neighbourhood and that there are so many flowers to stop and sniff on daily walks! As I work independently from home, it’s super important for me to get out each day for some fresh air and sunlight. I’m a bit of a homebody, so I love curating my space and making it as cozy as possible! This has been a challenge over the last few months as we have been renovating and I’ve had to be very patient! But we are getting there and I’m loving our new space more every day! In general, Brisbane is a wonderfully relaxed and sunny city to live in - but it’s made most wonderful by all the people in it.
Designer, stylist, all-round creative and beacon of colour and hope. Is there ever a day you sit on the couch in a pair of old trackies? Oh goshhhh, I am really not a couch dweller. I have tried, on occasion, to sit still (how novel!) but my fingers, they just itch for making! It’s an addiction! If I’m on the couch I’ll definitely be winding a pom pom or stoning some stockings. Don’t get me wrong though - I love some tracky dacks - but mainly to keep me as snug as possible whilst running around after Hugo or working in my chilly studio.
You originated the iconic @imakestagram tinsel jackets - how did that come about? How do you come up with your palettes? And can you share any stories from customers related to your jackets? The tinsel jackets originated very organically over time. Many years ago I found myself playing around with unconventional materials as I made garments for editorials I was photographing for magazine shoots, or just for fun. I had been working as a commercial clothing designer at the time, and felt very moved in my spare time to create crazy things (I think in rebellion to all the ‘normal street wear’ I was creating for my day job). My first tinsel jackets and dresses were made from an old box of Christmas supplies I had lying around the house. I remember texting pictures to my friend Patience Hodgson and she encouraged me so much in the making of them, eventually asking if I’d make one for her to wear during a performance at Splendour In the Grass. I ended up doing this and that was a huge moment - seeing the tinsel jacket up on stage - what a thrill! After that I started getting more and more requests for them, and the product developer inside kept encouraging me to make them more and more wearable and easy to make until finally I ended up with the styles I produce today. I often look to artworks for colour palette inspo. I find artists like Ken Done (Particularly his coral series), Yayoi Kusama, Paul Yore, and Tracey Emin very inspiring when it comes to inspo!
Stories relating to customers… hmm there are a lot! I love hearing about customers who have worn their jackets to weddings or during important life moments like graduations, milestone birthdays or even exams! I still have to pinch myself everyday that people actually wear my things. It’s a rush that never gets old!
How many of these jackets are in your own wardrobe? Can you believe, I don’t own a single one. Every time I try to hold onto one, I end up letting it go to a new home as there is never enough time in the day to make all the jackets that people want! Of course, this is an excellent problem to have and I’m very #tripleblessed that people want my work, so I’m just going to wait until people get bored of them and then I’ll make myself all the jackets of my dreams and spend the rest of my days shimmying around the streets of Brisbane. Can you imagine!
You bring joy to so many people on the daily. Does that ever become a burden? Oh gosh, it is truly never a burden! And if things ever start to all feel a bit too much on the internet for whatever reason (which definitely can happen sometimes), I just take a time out and try to get a bit of a healthy perspective on things by hanging out with family and friends and getting some fresh air. I really do feel incredibly lucky to get to do what I do and hopefully create some sense of joy...and ideally encourage others to tap into their creativity or style. I have worked in day jobs where time has stood still and I have felt frustrated and bored by work - and I hated that. To now have the day fly by and to get to march to the beat of my own drum really is wonderful.
Pom poms, tinsel, pipe cleaners. What is your favourite medium to play with? That IS a tough one! Like picking a favourite child. I’m going to say I love them all equally - but I go through seasons of material obsession. Currently pipe cleaners are REALLLLY taking up a lot of my brain space….I think they’re really underrated as a craft supply!
Do you always clean up after a creative session? My studio stays pretty messy to be honest, but sometimes if I’m feeling like something I am making isn’t working or I’m feeling like things are a bit chaotic I will tidy EVERYTHING up and immediately feel better. I have a policy with myself though that the main part of my house has no tinsel/glittery/crafty bits on the floor. For some reason once I leave my studio I just don’t want little crafty bits sticking to my toes or haunting my space. I need designated zones for things! Order amongst the chaos!
What does a regular day look like for you? I have two kinds of days really, depending on whether my cutie Hugo is at daycare or not. He goes to daycare a couple of days a week now, so when he’s there, my day involves: a stroll to the coffee shop | making in my studio | lunching | making | taking the dog for a walk | making | picking up Hugo from daycare | going to Coles (ha, the glamour) | making dinner | hanging out a bit | putting Hugo to bed | making again til it’s bedtime. On the days where I’m Hugo-ing, we can delete all that except for coffee/meals and sub in all the making for general shenanigans, playing and adventures and then I do all my making after he goes for a nap or goes to sleep at night. I really do work a lot but at the moment that’s what excites me and contributes to the life we have...so I roll with it!
At a dinner party I am likely to be… Oh boy, these days I’m probably the first to leave because THANKS HUGO. But in a time before sleep regressions and other zesty parental things I was probably the noisy guest who bursts into a show tune after 2-3 wines. Now that we’ve moved into a house with more space I’m hoping to become the host a bit more often - that way I don’t have to leave the soiree early too, ha!
Favourite Little Tienda piece? Oh gosh I love this one I am wearing! SO colourful and comfy - who could resist?
What are three things always in your handbag? Some kind of fun, bubblegum pink lip gloss, approximately 45 australia post receipts (when will I file these correctly?? WHEN?!), a packet of tiny teddies (i’m here for you Hugo).
Someone you love following on Instagram? Faye Wei Wei - British painter, foodie and all round dream boat.
Current favourite snack? Oh god give me a bag of Red Rock Deli Sweet Chilli and Sour Cream chips and I am DONE. Extra points for the foldy over wish chips.
Rachel Burke, what’s next for you? So last week I did a big pre-order on a lot of my sold out styles, and producing these will keep me busy for the next little while. I have some fun collaborations coming out over the next half of 2021 so stay tuned for that + some exhibition works I am very excited about. In between that, I’m just going to keep on trying to experiment within my crafts and continue working on making that old work/life balance thing happen. I’ll be drinking a lot of coffee while all that’s happening!!
Rachel wears the Little Tienda Rainbow Disco Ottie dress throughout.
Photography by Nat McComas.