A political fashion practice is to Central Saint Martins fashion graduate Rozalina Burkova not just a matter of sustainable materials. It goes beyond immediate eco-awareness to include thinking about gender, political activism and cultural heritage. After quitting Political Science in her native Bulgaria, Rozalina Burkova hand-drew her way into Central Saint Martins, where she began a thorough research into Bulgarian artisan craftsmanship while dissing the elections in the sewing studios with her peers. We spoke to Rozalina Burkova about interning at Dior Couture, receiving the LVMH Grand Prix and exactly how long it takes to hand-draw a whole collection with magic markers.
Before entering fashion education, Rozalina was in a very different field of knowledge, as she studied Political Science in her native Bulgaria. To her, fashion was a strong interest, but as she had never been drawing or sewing, it seemed to her unrealistic to pursue it further. “However, I just kept thinking ‘this can be an actual profession? why wouldn’t everyone want to do that? It sounds like so much fun!’” she explains over e-mail. She began doing research into fashion colleges, which naturally led her to Central Saint Martin’s application process. “I dropped out of Political Science, drew, drew, drew, and there you go. It turned out to be a pretty tough world.”
While at college, Rozalina began exploring her roots and heavily researching into Bulgarian folk wear, which she had been amazed by since childhood for its richness in detail. Its folkloric history led her to a new interest and appreciation for incredible craftsmanship and care for each garment. “The attitude in garment making back then was ‘okay, this silk jacket will stay with me or with my son/daughter for the rest of their lives, so I’m going to put all my skill and love into making it’”, she tells us. “Things were made painfully slowly and made to last, and you can see it in the pieces.” Travelling through Bulgaria, she encountered neatly ornamented 19th century garments, hand quilting, metal embroidery, crochet lace, which she visibly integrated in to her graduate collection. “For one’s final collection, I think it’s really important to use references that you have a relation to,” she says of her passion for Bulgarian folk wear. “It wasn’t so much about the actual look of folk wear, but about finding similarly labor-intensive processes and re-experiencing the making of them.”
“My process takes ages, but that’s also kind of the point.”
Rozalina’s newly found appreciation for very slow and very luxurious processes led her to integrate the political layers that informs all of her work. Slower and more long-lasting fashion leads to a more sustainable production process, and this is central to Rozalina’s practice. Thinking how to reduce waist, she began sourcing and incorporating hemp silk and denim in to her collection, calling hemp a “fabulous plant that can turn into so many things, including fuel, bio plastics and food supplements, but also happens to be the most sustainable fiber.” Furthermore, she actively upcycled materials donated by like-minded individuals and labels – cashmere from Orsola de Castro (of Fashion Revolution and eco-brand From Somewhere), knitwear from fashion charity Traid, amongst others. “I padded the jackets with scraps of calico from the studio; there is so much material out there, and it kills me that it’s wasted!” she exclaims. Her reactionary use of material transcends as she blends them with Bulgarian folklore, references images of protest: “For me, ideas of change and protest are connected to the days of folk wear, when the community, connection to the land and common good were more important for people. The Climate March, Occupy; they have this communal, power-of-the-land feel just like I imagine villages back in the days to have been,” she explains.
Her political trajectory was nourished during her time in Fashion Design and Marketing pathway, as she shared her enthusiasm for sustainability with four like-minded classmates, with whom she would sew “while dissing the elections or the new fracking campaign.”
“The whole experience of coming in to college at 8 am dead tired, and there’s a whole group of people there going through the same panic attacks of dying gone wrong and lost patterns, and you cry and laugh together – it can be awful but awesome at the same time,” she reflects. “I am not sure if we were an exception or not, but everyone in my class were more than lovely, and we would help each other with everything from personal advice to hand-sewing. Apart from tutoring, being in college around those people is what is worth paying for, especially in final year.”
“The whole experience of coming in to college at 8 am, dead tired, with a whole group of people there going through the same panic attacks of fabric dying gone wrong and lost patterns, and you cry and laugh together – it can be awful but awesome at the same time amazing.”
Rozalina’s incredible vision led her to an internship at Ann Demeulemeester in Antwerp and Dior Couture in Paris – and before her final year, she was awarded the prestigious LVMH Grand Prix, receiving substantial funding towards her final degree project. “It was fantastic, so incredibly helpful,” she says of the scholarship. “It was a proper confidence shot and it allowed me to use those great fabrics and buy hundreds of colorful markers.”
It’s no overstatement to say that she spent much of her scholarship on magic markers: Rozalina’s hand-drawn illustrations run as a visual red thread through her abundantly ornamented collection. “It takes ages, but that is also kind of the point,” she explains, as she describes how she applies her drawings to the amalgamated carpets. Despite their contemporary feel, her procedure is rooted in history, as she researched hand-woven carpets to understand the medium historically. “Traditional carpet motifs would express the mythology of its time – nature, animals, harvest and supernatural creatures. It led me to think about our time’s core subjects.” Her drawings discuss sexuality, body perception, protest images and interiors, that are appealing in their peculiarity, slightly clumsy but always a part of an incredibly aesthetic universe. “I hate drawing pretty girls and fabulous bodies,” she says, “just nice and beautiful often lacks character.” She learned to appreciate idiosyncrasy through her drawing, and extended this thought to her textiles: her graduate collection features jackets super-embellished with necklaces sourced from Sri Lanka, Bulgaria and car boot sales.
Since graduation, Rozalina has been working on commissioned illustrations as well as a few carpet pieces. “I have given myself a month to think, then we shall see,” she reflects. “My Instagram always gets the news first.”
Words by Jeppe Ugelvig
All images courtesy of Rozalina Burkova