Clergy take to the catwalk

It is the Spring/Summer '97 Cleric Collection. In Britain's first fashion show for church ministers, men and women of the cloth will be strutting their stuff on the catwalk and spreading the word that God and fashion go well together.

Ten clerics have been selected to model multi-coloured designer cassocks, stoles and copes at the 13th National Christian Resources Exhibition at San- down Park, in Esher, Surrey, next Tuesday. The outfits, by leading textile designers, reinterpret traditional symbolism and colours in a range of modern styles.

The Rev Andrew Roberts, a Methodist minister for Kingswinford and Worsley churches, in the West Midlands, will be making his modelling debut. The 33-year-old will be sporting his pounds 550 "dream suit", designed by Juliet Hemingway.

"Nobody else could wear my suit because it's made to measure - much to my wife's delight," he said. "She thinks it's quite fun being married to a male model now."

Ms Hemingway, who made the enthronement robes for the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr George Carey, and a waistcoat for Sir Cliff Richard, began designing clerics' garb 17 years ago, when a friend asked her to brighten up his black preaching scarf. Her "textile approach to the parables" reflects the Victorians' colourful handstitched imagery of pomegranates, grapes and flames.

Mr Roberts' extravagant suit, with its lavish gold fish symbols on the shoulders, wins him many compliments. "People are pleasantly surprised when they turn up and see a trendy minister wearing all this garb," he said. "Someone not wearing three shades of grey, which to me seems to be a contradiction of God's creativity and life"

The Rev Mike Starkey, vicar of St John's Church in Finsbury Park, north London, and author of Fashion & Style, a book which asks "Is it a sin to look good?", believes church fashion is about to turn full circle. He anticipates a rejection of the recent trend for casually-dressed clergy and a return to the vibrant regalia of the past.

"Quite a lot of people, particularly evangelicals, have turned against the vestments in the last 20 years because they have seen them as pompous or formal," he said. "But now a whole generation of younger evangelicals who are rebelling into tradition

The Rev Barbara Knight, 50, curate at St George's Parish in Norton, Hertfordshire, is one of two female models in the show. She will be donning garments designed by J&M Sewing of Newcastle.