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The impending nuptials of Prince William and his fetching fiancee have inspired a rare spurt of funky commemorative design.
The impending nuptials of Prince William and his fetching fiancee have inspired a rare spurt of funky commemorative design.

Royal wedding mementoes we actually like Add to ...

The corgi sits happily inside a giant wedding ring, his pudgy paws hanging over the band. An inscription below reads: "Kate & William 29 April 2011." The image, emblazoned on a tea towel, isn't your standard-issue royal-wedding keepsake, which is fine by its designers, a husband-and-wife team who run the linen line To Dry For. "We wanted to create something that people would actually enjoy having in their kitchen now, not some terrible photo montage of William and Kate," Dave Emery says from Oxford, England.

While the corgi is, of course, the Queen's preferred pooch breed, it hardly has a history in the commemorative knickknack canon, but that's the point. The impending wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, who are marrying on Friday, has inspired a rash of unexpectedly cool, occasionally offbeat art and design, from whimsically patterned towels and totes to attractively abstract tableware to mugs, tees and other gifts bearing such decidedly contemporary sentiments as "Wills & Kate 4-Ever!" with graphic flourish. And though there's plenty of dowdy crockery to satisfy old-school monarchists, the current designs have proven irreverent enough to attract even a Sex Pistol.

To Dry For's Emery, 33, says quirkiness and an anti-royalist undertone are at play in some of the more flippant creations, including Lydia Leith's now-infamous royal-wedding sick bags, available in regal purple and gold. By comparison, the designer and his wife, Sally, 31, employ a gentler brand of cheek, wedding the promotion of their line on Etsy with marital advice to the Royal Couple: "Just remember that the key to a good marriage is making sure that you don't take each other for granted, which means sharing chores! We recommend one of you washes and one of you dries."

Designed by Gemma Correll, the corgi towels have become an unimagined hit: 1,000 have been sold (at £9.95 each) in less than a month.

Business has also been brisk for Leith, the 24-year-old illustrator who has moved more than 5,000 of her limited-edition hand-screenprinted barf bags at £3 each since February. The Carlisle, England native says that she came up with the idea after friends bemoaned the excessive media coverage of William and Middleton back in November, when their engagement was announced. "Throne up," the bags read. "Sick Bag. Keep this handy on April 29th 2011."

"I have had some young people say they'll go to a street party and put confetti in their sick bag," the designer says. "I've also had one person who was a punk in the seventies say, 'Thanks for keeping the spirit alive.' "

Nowhere is that anarchic spirit more alive this spring than in the prints of Zoobs, a 38-year-old visual artist whose portrait of Middleton, God Save the Future Queen, riffs on Jamie Reid's treasonous cover art for the Sex Pistols' 1977 single God Save the Queen. "It was quite controversial," Zoobs says from London. Reid "had ripped out the Queen's eyes and covered her mouth. I wanted to do the opposite of that to celebrate Kate Middleton." (His less subversive approach notwithstanding, Steve Jones, a founding member of the Pistols, recently bought a print.)

So what accounts for the wide-reaching cool factor this time up the aisle? "It's the times and the young couple involved, but also it's a modern age in which people have more accessibility to good design through blogs and social media," says Brittany Jepsen, a 28-year-old Copenhagen designer selling souvenir totes, mugs and plates through The House That Lars Built, her business with fellow designer Caryn Cramer, on Etsy.

Cramer's china designs, which have captured the attention of the Tate Modern, depict Middleton with a graphic shock of pink hair. Rimmed with delicate greenery, Jepsen's more traditional line has interested Tate Britain. The design duo's totes are also selling well: One shows the procession route from Buckingham Palace to Westminster Abbey, where the Royal Couple will be married; another features Diana's massive sapphire engagement ring, now being worn by Middleton.

Robin Farquhar - a co-founder of the British design house People Will Always Need Plates, which created an opulent gilt-and-magenta plate and mug set to mark the royal wedding - argues that the current designs reflect more than just the couple's youthfulness. (After all, Diana was 20 when she wed 33-year-old Prince Charles; Middleton and William are 28 and 29 respectively.) As Farquhar sees it, the new brand of royal souvenirs reveals a fundamental shift in attitudes toward the monarchy since Charles and Di tied the knot. After their fairy-tale wedding in 1981, "divorce, adultery and suspicious death" humanized the Royals, making it "more acceptable to take a slightly tongue-in-cheek approach to their commemorative ware," Farquhar says.

Even so, the bottom line for all of the designers, "however irreverent, is still celebratory," he insists.

Indeed, even Leith, the young barf-bag maker, will be watching the pomp and pageantry: "I'd like to watch the wedding now because I'd like to see if I can see any sick bags in the crowd, a bit like Where's Wally."

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