London Men's Fashion Week kicks off this Friday, but much of the British fashion industry may be up north, in Liverpool, for the opening of "North: Identity, Photography, Fashion," an exhibition examining northern England's influence on fashion and visual culture at Open Eye gallery—and in the process making the case for the region as the country's true fashion capital.
“There is this kind of strange, London-centric approach to fashion,” SHOWstudio's Lou Stoppard, who curated the exhibition alongside the academic Adam Murray, said. “The bigger thing we’re thinking about with this exhibition is it’s not good for fashion to be in a bubble. Actually, people wear clothes across the U.K.”
After all, the likes of Gareth Pugh, who is from Sunderland, and the milliner Stephen Jones, from Liverpool—both contributors to the show—were raised elsewhere even if they ply their trade now in London. Along with the photographer David Sims's extensive print archives and Alasdair McLellan's original video commission, there will also be northern-facing editorials in early issues of magazines like like i-D and The Face; artworks by the likes of Turner Prize winners Jeremy Deller and Mark Leckey; and early photography by Corinne Day, Jamie Hawkesworth, and Glen Luchford, who contributed prints of his first-ever shoot: a 10-minute encounter with the Stone Roses, one of the most famous bands to come out of Manchester, a proudly northern city with a deep bench of famous bands.
And while musical icons like Morrissey, who's practically as much of a fixture of northern culture as football and sportswear, are present in the show, there are also plenty of outsiders, too. Take Raf Simons, who grew up in small-town Belgium making forays into Antwerp, but whose imagination was drawn to Manchester by the likes of Joy Division and New Order. Thanks to the graphic designer Peter Saville, who also hails from there, both bands would eventually turn up in Simons’ collections, like an album cover-adorned 2003 collection, some of which are on view in the exhibition in soccer locker room-like alcoves.
Meanwhile, decades later, the Off-White designer Virgil Abloh had a similar experience with Oasis, turning his musical obsessions into a collaboration with the architect Ben Kelly on a construction reminiscent of the Madchester movement club. It’s something he first learned about while growing up in Chicago—another place “slightly outside of the scene,” as Abloh described it to Stoppard, that developed its own subcultures, particularly in between industrial booms.
“There’s always this notion of the exotic, isn’t there?” Murray commented, likening the phenomenon to fashion's current obsession with another unexpected cultural mecca: Georgia and other post-Soviet countries, thanks to cult designers Demna Gvasalia and Gosha Rubchinskiy.
“And the authentic,” Stoppard added. “There's this irony as well, which is that someone like Gosha in turn references northern culture. All roads lead back to the north, in some way.”
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