Kevin Burns has an uptown mindset that translates into sultry fashions, accentuating glamour with hints of classic rock ‘n roll flair. His creations — T-shirts embellished with as many as 500 Swarovski crystals, denim handbags that can double as low-slung hip belts, as well as fitted and distressed denim jackets — are all designed according to his mood. For Burns, creative director and co-owner (with partners Gary Rivlin, CEO, and James Reginelli, CFO) of Usona, setting fashion trends outside of his 4,000 square foot, multimillion-dollar home furnishing store based in Philadelphia, is a way to unwind and express himself. “My creative side, doing the fashion portion, is something that I can do without the constraints of rules,” says Burns. “Whatever kind of creative idea I might have, I can just unleash it and let myself go.”
His passion for designing cutting-edge clothing began as a teenager when he used to listen to the music of artists such as David Bowie, Grace Jones, and Iggy Pop. But his designs were especially influenced from hanging out in New York City’s club scene during the mid-1980s and 1990s. Those times, Burns says, were all about being seen in wonderful garments or having what he calls the “it factor,” a look that really made you stand out. “You had to stand in club lines, behind velvet ropes, to get into the hottest spots,” recalls Burns. “It was a very undemocratic door policy [as far as] who could or could not come in, but you really had to be on fire or be ultra fabulous to get through the door, because everyone was competing to get in.”
For that reason, Burns designed his own elaborate outfits, such as a leather jacket with pieces from a crystal chandelier sewn onto the arms. Or he would take apart a necklace and use it as an epaulet on the shoulder of a jacket so that the coat would be “covered with trinkets and madness.” His attire always garnered the desired attention. Creating unique styles for New York City’s chic nightspots became a private pastime too delicious to give up. “Even though I have the home furnishing business, I still have that other outlet for my creative energy,” says Burns. “If an idea hits me, I just try to release it and bring it to life.”
- ORIENT YOURSELF: “The most important thing to do is gather a little history about glam style. Watch old movies like A Clockwork Orange, Blade Runner, or Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome because they show a punk, post-apocalyptic way of seeing the world. And they’re very sexy and follow the whole rock ‘n roll aesthetic.”
- BROWSE VINTAGE MATERIAL: Read old fashion magazines from the 1920s, 1970s, and 1980s as reference material.
- SHOP: Burns travels to New York City’s fabric district, Sixth Avenue (also called Avenue of the Americas) from 27th to 31st streets, for the best purchase prices on trimmings, buttons, etc.
- BOOKS TO READ: Icons of Fashion: The 20th Century edited by Gerda Buxbaum (Prestel Verlag, 1999, $29.95). The Fashion