Welcome Denny Brackenbury to The Dressmaker Workshop. We are so excited to have such a talented guy on the team to run our Advanced Garment Construction Courses & Classes
Denny has written us a Blog telling us all about his his life in fashion and how he has found himself as part of our team her at The Dressmaker Fabrics. Its a lovely read.
My interest in clothing and fashion began at a very early age. I can remember being captivated by
the amazing costumes I saw in the wonderful old movies my parents would watch on TV, first in
black and white then in vivid Technicolour (showing my age already). Hollywood glamour became
my obsession and very quickly my bedroom walls were adorned with pictures of Jean Harlow, Gloria
Swanson, Clara Bow and many other flawlessly beautiful actors and actresses. I loved the larger than
life characters I saw on TV and as a very young child (age 4 or5) became obsessed with the singer
Kathy Kirby. I could not understand how someone could be so utterly visually stunning and as for the
sparkling sequin dresses, well that was it for me, much to my parent’s horror, there was no looking
back. I shied away from usual boyish pursuits, sports and playing in dirt never appealed to me
preferring to draw and collect newspaper cuttings. My scrapbook of the ‘Stars’ grew ever bigger.
My obsession with my own clothing and appearance also began to come to the fore. I absolutely
hated getting dirty and always wanted my appearance to be immaculate, I remember running home
from junior school one lunch time to change my long white socks because I had a mark on the ones I
had been wearing…….a DIVA in the making!
As a child my mother said I could draw before I could talk, ‘He’s always got a pencil in his hand’ was
one of her stock descriptions of her only child. Art has always been a passion of mine; both my
parents would encourage me to draw and paint. My father was a very talented artist and would
create wonderful oil paintings in the Impressionist style, I was in awe of his talent. My mother could
knit for England. It wasn’t long before I began to produce sketches of costumes that I believed all my
fabulous muses would want to wear. At one time during my college years a tutor tried desperately
to get me to apply to The Slade in order to pursue life as a fine artist. The idea of living in a garret,
eating stale bread and cheese struggling to eek out a living did not appeal to me…..the sequins were
Then Glam Rock took over, I wanted to be David Bowie! His influence on me (and many, many
others) literally changed my life. It was like getting permission at the age of 11 or 12 to become a
different person and break away from convention, much to the horror of my parents. When David
appeared on the Russell Harty Show one Saturday evening I became transfixed. This incredible man
was wearing clothes, shoes, jewellery and makeup the like of which this young boy from Ponders
End in Enfield had never seen before. I was overwhelmed with excitement and desperately want
bright red hair, just like David Bowie (I’d have to wait a couple more years for that). My father
looked up from his newspaper, raised his eyebrows and said something along the lines of…’FREAK’.
My next task was to convince my parents that I desperately needed platform shoes. To say that my
battle with non-conformity had well and truly began is somewhat of an understatement. I got the
shoes, very much against my mothers wishes, my father was a much softer touch.
This was swiftly followed by the discovery of the group LaBelle. I remember seeing them on TV
performing in their space age silver drag, with voices that in my opinion remain unsurpassed. Lady
Marmalade had me hooked! Their outrageous costumes and mind-blowing vocal ability affected me
in the same way my first encounter with Mr Bowie had done a few years before. Another obsession
began, Patti LaBelle became my icon and remains so to this day.
Then my world was literally turned upside down and life was never going to be the same. My father
sadly passed away in 1973 after a couple of years of illness caused by a heart condition, leaving my
mother to deal with me on her own, not an easy task you may think. Mum very quickly became
accustomed to my ever-changing appearance and did not bat an eyelid when she would return
home from work to find me with a haircut that had been designed to look like a pineapple…what
was I thinking? All my mother cared about to her dying day, was that I was happy. She loved me
unconditionally and I her.
For a very short time I toyed with the idea of becoming a hairdresser. A friend who ran a salon near
to my secondary school would encourage me to visit most nights before I returned home. It did not
take much persuasion to allow the junior stylists to experiment on me. Some weeks my hair literally
changed colour overnight. How I got away with this at school remains a mystery to this day. I think
the headteacher saw something in me and didn’t want to crush my ‘artistic tendencies’, in fact he
was the man who got me into art college a year early and for that I am eternally thankful.
I left school just before my 18 th birthday and went on to attend St Albans College of Art for the next 2
years. To say I had the best time ever is an understatement. I absolutely loved my time in St Albans
and was at last mixing with like-minded people on a daily basis. It also helped being a city that has
more pubs in the central vicinity than anywhere else in the country. I studied hard and played hard.
It was here at St Albans that I and my gang of friends thought we were going to become the next
fashionable set of artists to rule the world. Obviously, this did not happen and on leaving the college
we went our separate ways.
So, I suppose what I’m trying to say is that I have always been drawn to the unconventional. In terms
of fashion Vivienne Westwood was and still is my hero. I was lucky enough to get a place on the
Fashion Degree course at St Martins in London. What was to follow I affectionately call my ‘Lost
Years’ for no other reason than the time passing so quickly and forever changing my image from
Punk to Blitz Kid to New Romantic and so on. My hair changed colour and style so many times it’s a
miracle it’s still sprouting from my head. London was the place to be and as well as gaining my
degree it was essential to have a good time and be out on the club scene every night (makes me feel
tired now just thinking about it). I met some fabulous people as well as some not so fabulous along
the way and have continued to be attracted to those who see the world in a different way.
I began my fashion career as a freelance designer and illustrator and very quickly built up a large
client base of ladies who wanted spectacular outfits for the next big event they were attending. As
word got around amongst these wonderful clients each request grew bigger and more glamourous
as the ladies attempted to ‘out do’ one another. Again, I was fortunate enough to meet some
amazing people during this time, some of whom I remain friends with to this day.
The next step for me was into teaching. I began teaching fashion design and illustration at a small
private college in the heart of London. Paris Academy School of Fashion was my base for the next 10
years. The college had been established back in the late 1920’s by Madame J Trois Fontaines and
was still going strong when I was successful in gaining a position as a teacher. We taught all the
basics of fashion which is why to this day I like to do things properly, some might say ‘the old-
fashioned way’. Several years before the college finally closed I had been elevated to the post of
Principal. Very recently one of my ex-students contacted me via Instagram, the power of social
media never ceases to amaze me. She told me that another student who she remains in contact with
went on to become a designer in the Bridal wear industry and that he is now well known globally,
hopefully some of my teaching paid off.
My career then took its next unexpected turn. After Paris Academy closed I decided it was time for a
change. A friend suggested that I should visit the school she worked in to see if working there would
appeal to me. I was greeted by the headteacher and immediately escorted to a classroom and told
this is where you will be working. Shock! Horror! I had never worked with Special Needs Children
before and went home that afternoon to tell my now husband, ‘I think I’m making the biggest
mistake of my life’. 26 years later and I’m still here! Again, I worked my way through the ranks and
eventually ended my full-time career at the school as Head of School for the Further Education
Centre. It has been a privilege to watch our young people develop over the years and I hope in some
small way I have contributed in making their lives happier and more fulfilled.
Throughout all this time I never lost my passion for the world of fashion and continued to make
clothing for myself, my husband and friends. On a holiday to the Gran Canaries several Christmases
ago we met a drag queen named The Vivienne. We got chatting and she told me that she would be
appearing on the first Ru Pauls Drag Race tv programme in the UK. I said, (probably after a few too
many sherries), ‘if you ever want anything made give me a call’. On returning home she did call, this
time as James, asking if I could make a tartan suit in the style of Vivienne Westwood that he would
wear on the first episode of the show, portraying the icon Pete Burns. I made the suit and low and
behold The Vivienne was awarded her first Ru Peter badge and there was my suit on tv for the world
to see. She went on to win the series and is now fast becoming a household name. I also made
James a T shirt that he wore on tv for Glow Up does Red Nose Day. My most recent claims to fame!
I now live very, very happily in Leigh on Sea with my husband, Ken. We have been together for 32
years (married for 7). We moved here from Ongar in Essex, having spent 25 years in our gorgeous
Victorian house with our two Lasa Apso’s, Dudley and Oskar, surrounded by wonderful people who
became lifelong friends. But time moves on and people go their separate ways. My mother passed
away and we had outgrown the house. It was time for us to move on. A colleague and dear friend at
work suggested that we look in Leigh on Sea. We did and the rest as they say is history.
Ken is a specialist in the teaching of children and young people with Autism. He is the lead trainer at
our school and also advises other schools within the surrounding boroughs. To say he is expert in
this field is another understatement. I call him the ‘Autism whisperer’ and I do not mean this to
sound flippant or derogatory in any way. He always seems able to resolve any difficulty a child may
be having and his patience with them knows no end. He is the most kind and caring person I have
ever met. Everybody loves Ken!!!!! He too is very artistic and we have created a home together that
reflects this. Ken creates amazingly delicate Curiosity Boxes or Dioramas as I think they are known.
He paints porcelain dolls and places then carefully inside reclaimed antique clock cases, along with
all manner of wonderful, visually stunning items, you can probably tell I am his biggest (literally) fan.
Fortunately for me he also likes to wear the clothes I make him! Together we have become known in
Leigh as the Moustached Men.
When I approached Marc in the Dressmaker Fabric store asking if he ever needed anyone to help out
with sewing and dressmaking, I never expected to be offered the wonderful opportunity to begin my
fashion teaching career again. I have used the store very regularly during my time in Leigh, in fact I
never shop anywhere else for fabric and haberdashery. The Vivienne’s winning suit was made from
tartan purchased in the store (sorry name dropping again). I am very excited to be working with the
lovely team of people at The Dressmaker Fabric store and hope that those who attend my sessions
will enjoy the experience.
Click the Link below for all the details of Dennys first Workshop with us.