Interview – Mal Burkinshaw

The results of a unique collaboration between fashion designers, artists, curators and art historians, established to investigate and challenge contemporary notions of beauty, have been revealed in a fascinating new display called Beauty by Design: Fashioning the Renaissance at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery.

Alumni of ECA and manager at the Scotland Re:Designed Limited Edition Store, Bryony Strange spoke to exhibitor Mal Burkinshaw, fashion designer and Senior Lecturer and Programme Director of Fashion at Edinburgh College of Art about the project.


Why do you think body and beauty ideals have changed so drastically over the years?

It’s such a big question, and very difficult to answer succinctly! We live in an ever evolving and advancing culture, particularly affected by the media’s depiction of beauty. The visibility of these ‘ideals’  has increased insurmountably through social media and is combined with a lowering self esteem (also influenced by our parenting) ; we are already vulnerable and therefore we become victims of ‘image bullying’. When we walk past a magazine stand, the covers (much like the Renaissance portraits) are telling us “this is the most beautiful, RIGHT NOW!” We absorb these messages subliminally, so we are drip fed these ‘values’ from a young age. Ideas of  the ‘perfect beauty’ are essentially socially constructed. Fashion is a major player in our image identity crisis –  but not the only culprit.

 Why did you choose lace as your main material, and was the decision to use all black a purposeful one?

Yes, the embedded ‘X-Ray’ lace silhouettes that I incorporated developed from close collaboration with renowned lace producer Sophie Hallette. I sought to collaborate with them as this celebrates the highly skilled artisans who produce this beautiful material which was a signifier of  status and hierarchy during the Renaissance.  The use of lace in the jackets attempts to highlight the wearing of black lace during the period, and although it was highly favoured, it was actually very rarely depicted in portraiture of the time.

Which current designers do you resonate with/admire most?

Marni S/S 15 and Dries Van Noten. In a more lasting sense, it’s Gaultier; he’s still current despite the wrapping up of his RTW line. Whilst I don’t necessarily favour every collection, I really admire his sense of brand and identity, his focus on celebrating character, age, size, gender and sexuality. He has been one of the most consistent, brave and creative designers, and he has really incited changes in style and acceptance of our differences. I’m usually only drawn to personally admire one or two items from designer collections each season – and for the record I simply can’t stand the new Saint Laurent line!

The display also showcases works by milliner Sally-Ann Provan; accessories designer Anne Chaisty; stylist and writer Philip Clarke; freelance knitwear designer Claire Ferguson; make-up and hair expert Sharon D. Lloyd; and artist Paul Hodgson.

15 November 2014 − 3 May 2015
1 Queen Street, Edinburgh EH2 1JD
Admission free | 0131 624 6200