Not surprisingly, their hard-fought autonomy has drawn comparisons to that other English king of the will, Alexander McQueen. Appropriate, then, that Boudicca's closest stylistic relative and fellow trend-bucker is also the only other recipient of British fashion's plummiest sponsorship: American Express. Boudicca's Daddy Warbucks-style arrangement with Amex began last year with no visible strings attached, and remains a coup by any standard. "They fund all our catwalk shows," says Kirkby, "which as you can imagine is a huge benefit to us. Now we can put the monies made from sales back into the company, allowing it to grow and move forward."
Having watched its previous seedling grow into a multi-million dollar money tree for Gucci Group, as well as a fashionable reflection of itself, the giant of a credit card company has no doubt fertilized Boudicca with similar hopes. All too aware of the pitfalls of a potential deal with the devil, Broach and Kirkby are quick to point out there has been no pressure from above. "American Express give us complete creative freedom, and are very supportive of our ideas," confirms Kirkby. "We have nothing but good things to say about them. The system isn't built for people like us when big corporations can supply the Tom Fords of the world, or whoever. American Express are very aware that they are in a position to help new creativity flourish and, for this, we salute them. As for McQueen, we both have huge respect for him and what he has achieved in the industry. But he is McQueen and we are Boudicca."
Smelling a winner, American Express is also funding the launch of Boudicca's first and very hush-hush fragrance, WODE. An experiment five years in the making, involving a small army of specialists who've all signed non-disclosure agreements, it's more of an anti-perfume that Kirkby claims "does something never done before and is applied in a new way." But here's the kicker: it won't be available for sale when it's unveiled in a "spectacular" September launch. "If I say too much I'll be in breach," explains Kirkby, "but it will not follow the conventional route of a fragrance. And anyway it would be a huge cliché for us to do a fragrance as we all know it's a well-trodden path. We see it more as art."
Art is a term used often by Kirkby, a graduate of London's Royal College of Art, who appears more at home with its crisp vernacular than plushy fashion babble. "When Boudicca was formed in 1997, we envisioned it more as an art project than a fashion line. We were invited to represent the Brit art scene in Wolfsburg, the city in Germany virtually created by Volkswagen. We based an art collection there. It was just about experimenting." Broach chimes in, "We didn't feel like we were doing fashion. We were doing something like a weird conversation between two people. It was never about making money, we just wanted to get personally involved."
Which is why, in 2001, Broach and Kirkby were among the thousands of demonstrators at the G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, protesting the advance of corporate globalization, an act which would later inspire show titles such as Corporate Deserter and It Pays My Way But It Corrodes My Soul. "Our involvement with the anti-capitalist movement was caused by our concerns for anti-banality," says Kirkby. "We didn't want to see a McStarbucks world destroying cultures. To protest is the ultimate celebration of democracy. At Genoa, unfortunately, freedom was hidden in a cloud of tear gas and people's rights were met with a nightstick. Big corporations have become so powerful they now control governments. This is the antithesis of democracy. I could go on forever about our feelings on this subject, but will sum it up with a poem by Shelley, which was written on the banner we carried:
'Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you
Ye are manythey are few.