Northern Soul

Exploring the north of England’s vast impact on fashion and culture
By Nik Patel | Fashion | 4 January 2017

Raf Simons FW03. Image courtesy of Raf Simons

Top image: Raf Simons FW03.

From Morrissey‘s gravity-defying quiff to the thousands of Adidas Gazelles that tread terraces every weekend from Old Trafford to St. James’ Park, fashion plays a vital part in defining the North’s strong identity.

Co-curated by Editor of SHOWStudio, Lou Stoppard, and Fashion Communication lecturer, Adam Murray, North: Identity, Photography, Fashion, a new exhibition opening at Liverpool’s Open Eye gallery, explores how the influence of the region’s immense and idiosyncratic cultural history has etched itself into the international creative landscape.

Pulling together various perspectives of the North, from early photography by Jamie Hawkesworth and Alasdair McLellan, to the original prints from Glen Luchford’s influential 1989 shoot with The Stone Roses, through those Raf Simons X Peter Saville Haçienda-inspired FW03 parkas, the exhibition boasts a comprehensive collection. We spoke to the co-curators to trace the ideas behind the exhibition.


Nik Patel: What debates do you hope to explore with the exhibition concerning the role that the North has played in creative culture?
Adam Murray: I’d like people to really consider why the North has had such a significant role in creative culture and what made certain periods particularly significant; the economic, political and cultural climate of each time, the people involved and what combines to make the region such a force in the cultural imagination.
Lou Stoppard: I think it would also be great for people to consider how space and birthplace can shape you. Fashion can seem very London-centric, but I often think people who grow up on the ‘outside’ – whether up North or in regional towns and villages across the country – have the most interesting perspectives. Your ambitions and goals are shaped by that sense of distance from the scene.

Nik: What were the most significant hurdles in preparation for the exhibition?
Adam: Leading on from my previous point, although it is important that we traced the development and history of themes and motifs, Lou and I were clear that we didn’t want the show to dwell in nostalgia.  It is vital that this speaks to a contemporary audience and highlights that the North today still plays a vibrant role in international culture.
Lou: This topic can become very white, very male, very heteronormative and very nostalgic. The difficulty has been acknowledging that while also pushing against it. Another trick was just editing the quantity of material – there’s a lot to choose from and many avenues (and towns) to explore.

Photograph by Stephen McCoy, From the series Skelmersdale (1984)

Nik: What are your personal highlights from the exhibition, and why do they stand out for you?
Adam: It’s very satisfying to be able to put Jamie Hawkesworth’s work in the exhibition because I think it embodies some of the key themes of the show. As a lecturer in Preston, I was working with Jamie in the very early stages of his career, when he was seeing the North of England with quite a naïve excitement.  The three images Lou and I have selected for the show illustrate how his work has developed from the lone photographer wandering the streets of Preston, to travelling with a single stylist street-casting teenagers in South Shields, to the big fashion production back in Preston.  It’s lovely to see his work change dramatically in terms of context, yet he is able to maintain the same approach to whomever is in front of the camera.
LS: Personally I’m thrilled to be collaborating with Tony Hornecker on the set design for the show. He designed my first ever exhibition, Mad About The Boy, and is so skilled at bringing objects to life and creating dynamic environments that push against the norms of fashion exhibiting. I’m also thrilled about the breadth of work on show – to have Turner Prize-winning artists like Mark Leckey and Jeremy Deller on show alongside contemporary photographers like Alasdair McLellan and David Sims, more historical documentary image-makers such as John Bulmer, established designers such as Raf Simons and Paul Smith and young designers like John Skelton is just amazing.

Nik: What aspects of Northern style do you find most captivating, and where are these most evident in the exhibition?
Adam: I’m just fascinated by the way people choose to dress and how, for me, it is the one form of creative expression that everyone engages with daily. Obviously this isn’t confined to just the North of England, but when individuals or groups find their own way of communicating through clothing and appearance it is so exciting.  The work in the show by Alice Hawkins and Jason Evans illustrates this perfectly. The rollers in hair thing has become a cliché in itself and often depicted in a derogatory way, but in Alice’s portrait of two young women in Liverpool, there is a real sense of celebration of a style that has essentially grown out of function. Jason’s street portraits shot in 90s Manchester on the other hand, document some people who may normally pass you by unnoticed. I get quite a humble feeling when I look at these people, yet once singled out by Jason, it becomes irresistible to study their appearance.
 Right now, as we come to the end of our research, I think I’m particularly intrigued by the interplay between gender and dress – you see a very specific performative masculinity in much of the work and an equally interesting style of femininity when it comes to fashion and beauty. I think the current nostalgia for the casuals scene of the 80s and that form of masculinity is also fascinating.

Nik: Music has been a huge contributing factor to the development of the Northern identity – in what ways is this contribution expressed through the exhibition?
Lou: There are lots of music references in the show, from Glen Luchford’s portraits of The Stone Roses, his first ever shoot, to Nick Knight’s images of Morrissey. Obviously the Madchester scene is a very important moment and a clear reference to a myriad of designers. Peter Saville, who designed those iconic Joy Division and New Order covers, has kindly given lots of advice to us while we’ve been developing the show. His influence, and the influence of his friends and peers, comes through in the Raf Simons items (his A/W 03 collection was a tribute to Saville), and in many of the Adidas items on display (there’s even a Hacienda shoe). We’re also displaying a new collaboration between Ben Kelly, the architect who designed the Hacienda, and Virgil Abloh, which shows how relevant that scene is to a new generation of makers.

Photograph by Jason Evans, Untitled, Manchester (1997)

Nik: What do you want people to take away from the exhibition?
See the exhibition as a starting point for further exploration.  We have chosen work that redacts some of the most important elements of the region into creative practice, fundamentally though it is all out there in the real world to discover.  Come to the gallery, but be sure to take the long route back to the train station.

North: Identity, Photography and Fashion runs at Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool from 6th January until 19th March, 2017.



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