Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 21 August 2014

Stop the press! A new fashion genius is born

Dressed to impress: Frances Burscough models a paper dress designed by Jannie Kleinhans

Let it be said I have indeed done some bizarre things for the sake of my column and to keep you all amused. Let it also be said that I've made a complete plonker of myself many times in the process.

I've shuffled off this mortal coil in Belfast on a busy Saturday afternoon, made-up and dressed like a rotting corpse (like you do) for a zombie sponsored walk; I've trod the boards and faced the limelight as an extra in the West End production of An Inspector Calls; I've transformed myself into a deranged psychotic jack-in-a-box style serial killer clown for a locally-made horror film; I've wiggled and giggled my way around a packed Crown Bar dressed head to toe as Marilyn Monroe; I've stood up on stage with a mic in my hand attempting to amuse and entertain a packed auditorium as a stand-up comic ... and now, I can add “makeshift catwalk model” to my long list of experimental one-off alter-egos.

The event in question was certainly a very good cause — a Variety Evening of Fashion, Food and Fun at the Ulster Museum in aid of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer charity. My friend Jannie Kleinhans had planned, organised and orchestrated the whole thing in loving memory of his mum Tersia, who died a year ago from the illness. He had spent almost a year planning the event in her honour and I was absolutely delighted to be asked to take part in this amazing tribute.

Now I'm no model — obviously — being of petite stature, size zero plus (plus a lot more besides) and of waning age and sex appeal. Indeed I'm more Cyndi Lauper as she is now than Cindy Crawford as she was then. But when Jannie asked me to participate by modelling his show-stopping ballgown, I happily jumped at the chance, utterly flattered, imagining a luxurious couture creation fashioned from swathes of shimmering satin, or ornate organza encrusted with twinkling crystals ... you know, like the ones I'd reported on so often at the fashion shows.

However, I soon discovered that this one wasn't going to be quite so luxurious as I'd initially envisaged. It was to be made entirely from old newspapers, “Which is why we have asked you!” he explained, “I thought it would be funny, because you're a journalist!”

“Ah! I knew there would be a catch!” I thought, slightly disappointed that my glorious new career as a supermodel was starting to sound like a comedy skit, with me as the hilarious piece de resistance appearing all wrapped up in yesterday's news like a 1970s fish supper.

But then I saw it and I gasped. I needn't have been dismayed at all because what Jannie actually created for me was a thing of extraordinary beauty.

How he made it was even more extraordinary.

Not a single stitch was used. To make the corset-style bodice he had wrapped a dress-maker’s dummy in cling-film and then moulded it with soggy wet papier mache.

Once this had dried, he drew the shape of the decolletage directly onto it with a marker pen, then simply but carefully cut it out. The crinoline-effect bustling skirt was a lot more tricky and even more ingeniously-crafted. To get the volume and shape, he screwed up individual newspaper pages — literally hundreds of them, and then threaded them together using nylon gardening string. Once he had these all ready, he tied each layer to a flexible belt made from a plastic washing machine pipe.

Valerie Singleton eat your heart out!

Of course, wearing it for an evening posed numerous problems. It was difficult to move in, because it was literally stuck on to me with parcel tape. The belt had to be secured around my waist with a staple gun because the tape kept giving way every time I breathed deeply — something I was doing a lot by this stage, due to nerves as the audience front-of-stage took their seats.

And, although I very rarely smoke, no sooner had I been trussed up in newspapers I found myself dying for a cigarette ... which, of course, was completely out of the question as I was now like a walking incendiary device!

Of course, the audience loved it and I had an absolute ball wearing it. Check out the picture of the incredible finished result.

Stop the press and hold the front page. A new design genius is born! Jannie Kleinhans, my friend — from now on I'm going to call you Jannie Versace.

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