Saturday Night: Pulled off the catwalk by royal disappointment

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Indy Lifestyle Online
This is the frock that was too hot for Princess Michael of Kent. No one is sure why. Commissioned by Kensington Palace for its court couture collection, it was withdrawn at the last minute from a royal gala catwalk show. Was it the skirt, split to the crotch to reveal matching knickers? Maybe the thigh-length boots were too saucy? One can see no objection to the corset and collar made of pages from Shakespeare, shredded and embroidered back together. No, it must have been the wicked leather crop. Unless . . . could it have been the Fergie factor?

'When the dress was made,' sighs its co-designer, Harvey Bertram-Brown, 'Sarah Ferguson was still regarded as part of the Royal Family. So we included her image.' By the time HRH's attendants came to inspect it, this was no longer so. A case of 'Designers by Royal Disappointment', perhaps.

Moving on, Harvey shows off 'the pulling dress'. He holds up a silver gossamer bodice, its bra cups lined with rose motifs and underwired with miniature brass hinges. At hip level the bodice metamorphoses into a pair of fluffy white Malibu hot-pants, to which are attached a pair of filigree silver handles. 'For pulling, of course,' he says, demonstrating how the wearer can be tugged, pelvis first, into one's clutches. The ensemble comes with a silver choker containing a neatly disguised metal-foil condom, 'and lots of little red bows in the hair'. A pause. 'Aids awareness,' says Harvey with a sly smile.

On the coffee table stands a rigid, tulip-shaped mini-skirt, constructed of hundreds of layers of Sellotape. Fabric roses are trapped between the layers, and more are stitched to the apron. Slung over a chair is a Disneyesque vamp cape to which have been pinned dozens of colour-photo badges depicting Rachel Boss, one of the team's favourite models. And in the corner stands a flamenco dress, its swirling skirts made of copies of the FT.

Welcome to the wonderful world of New RenaisCAnce, a young design team set up in 1990, whose first-rate craftsmanship and bizarre range of materials, coupled with sly, punning designs, give their fashions a surreal, trippy quality.

The New RenaisCAnce team - all Royal College MA graduates - comprises Harvey and his partners Carolyn Corben, embroiderer and textile designer, Sophie Harley, jeweller, and Felicity Jury Cramp, metalworker and designer of those outrageous sunglasses fringed with fine gold chains, so beloved of stylists. The common ground, says Harvey, was their design ethic. 'We're much more interested in fashion than in selling clothes as a commodity. We prefer to retain artistic integrity and do things we think inspirational, exciting, uplifting, that end up as beautiful pieces of craft.' The bulk of the team's work so far has been for film and television: making costumes, building sets, scripting and producing pop videos for the likes of Bryan Ferry, and styling MTV presenters. The company has also art-directed several commercials and print ads, yet Harvey is most proud of the BBC 1 spring/summer title sequence it produced last year. 'It was seen by two-and-a-half million people, five times a day, for five months. That's just brilliant - so much better than trying to sell a hundred shirts.'

This week, though, Harvey's gang has been playing the fashion game in earnest. To coincide with London Fashion Week, the team is selling a limited collection through Liberty's, including some elegant though challenging menswear. Harvey Nichols has just hosted the team's first catwalk show featuring, of course, the 'pulling dress'. This marks the team's first real attempt to meet the demands of retail business. 'Previously, all our pieces were made by hand, so if people wanted more than one, it was a colossal headache. But we're designing for manufacture now.'

When they are not making clothes, or sets or videos, they give 'inspirational lectures' of the kind delivered to 60 Saatchi & Saatchi creatives last year. The lecture theatre became an enchanted forest, complete with starry sky. Every creative was sent a candle with their invitation. 'The only light came from our videos, shown on TV sets wrapped in leaves, just glowing in the midst of this dense undergrowth.' Harvey chuckles. 'It was pitch dark and they had to light their candles to find their way in, then sit on the floor around an ornamental fishpond, while we gave our lecture. All these people in suits didn't quite know what hit them.'

(Photograph omitted)

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