Sarah Burton of Alexander McQueen to design Kate Middleton's wedding dress?
It is the most coveted fashion commission of the century: the chance to design the wedding dress worn by Kate Middleton.
But the British fashion house Alexander McQueen was desperately denying having won the prized assignment last night as fevered speculation mounted that the dress would be designed by its new creative director, Sarah Burton.
Fashion sources said yesterday that the design of the dress would be a combination of Miss Middleton's own ideas and Mrs Burton's quirky interpretation of high fashion.
Work on the royal wedding dress is said to be under way inside Buckingham Palace, but Miss Middleton is determined that details of the design must be kept in the strictest confidence, and her chosen couturier has been sworn to secrecy.
Mrs Burton, who took over as creative director of the fashion label following the suicide of Alexander McQueen last year, strenuously denied having won the commission.
But sources said the 36-year-old had been chosen for the discretion afforded by her relatively low profile, as well as for her alternative take on elegance.
If confirmed, the selection of one of Britain's edgiest labels will be seen as a fresh attempt by Miss Middleton to develop her own unique style after drawing criticism in some quarters for her "conservative" dress sense.
The Daily Telegraph reported in December that Miss Middleton's wedding dress was already being created inside Buckingham Palace by a little known British designer who would be catapulted into the limelight when her identity was revealed.
Kate Middleton's wedding dress sketched by fashion's leading designers
Mrs Burton became McQueen's right hand woman after joining his label as an intern in 1996.
She presented her first womenswear collection without him at Paris Fashion Week shortly after his suicide in October last year - drawing praise for infusing her mentor's unique style with a new element of femininity.
Her work is said to have caught Miss Middleton's eye when she designed an off-the-shoulder wedding dress for Sara Buys, a fashion journalist who married Tom Parker Bowles, the son of the Duchess of Cornwall, in 2005.
Despite being widely hailed as a new British style icon, Miss Middleton was criticised for her conservative dress sense by Dame Vivienne Westwood at London Fashion Week last month.
The leading British designer, known for her outrageous creations, said: "I would have loved to have dressed Kate Middleton but I have to wait until she kind of catches up a bit somewhere with style."
Mrs Burton, who is from Manchester, designed a billowing red and black dress worn by Michelle Obama to a state dinner last year and has also worked on one-off creations for celebrities such as Cate Blanchett, Lady Gaga and Gwyneth Paltrow.
She is now putting the finishing touches to her latest collection, which she will present at Paris Fashion Week on Tuesday. She today denied designing the royal wedding dress.
A spokeswoman for Alexander McQueen said: "Sarah is busy working on her new collection for the Tuesday show and she was as surprised as the rest of us to hear about this. She is not designing the dress."
Jonathan Akeroyd, chief executive of Alexander McQueen, reportedly let slip to a colleague that Mrs Burton was Miss Middleton's chosen designer.
But he last night denied that the fashion house had any involvement in the royal wedding.
"Not at all," he said. "I am the CEO. I would know if we were doing it."
Clarence House refused to confirm or deny reports that Mrs Burton would design the dress.
A spokesman said: "We always knew that there would be a lot of speculation about the appointment of the designer. Because Catherine Middleton is keen to keep this private, we are not responding to this in any way at all.
"This is about the 10th one we've been asked about in the last three months and it's getting a bit ridiculous."
Bruce Oldfield, the British couture designer who created Samantha Cameron's wedding dress and was a favourite of Diana, Princess of Wales, was until yesterday considered the favourite to win the coveted commission.
Daniella Issa Helayel, the Brazilian couturier who designed Miss Middleton's engagement dress, has also been tipped as a hot favourite.
But Hilary Alexander, the Daily Telegraph's Fashion Director, predicted that Mrs Burton could be called upon to design the royal wedding dress in November.
She said: "If this is true it's the best news the fashion industry has had in a long time. It is desperately in need of an injection of fabulousness in the wake of the whole John Galliano scandal."
The royal wedding falls four days before a major McQueen retrospective opens in New York on May 4.
The designer hanged himself after overdosing on drugs and slashing his wrists at the age of 40 in February 2010.