Thursday 14th March

| BY Paul Toner

Up’t North – These British Designers are Diverting Fashion’s Focus Upwards

It’s quite grim up North, innit? Or so you’d think if you’re southern (and a little on the naive side), convinced a short car journey outside the capital will land you in a bleak dystopia. A damp landscape crowded with footy hooligans, angsty scallies and Scouse birds in rollers. I’d be lying if you didn’t encounter at least one of these characters. But until you’ve saw a mum of three, lugging her rowdy younglings and a full shopping trolly around Asda with a full face of make up, you’ve never experienced the true essence of glamour.

For the most part, Northern representation in fashion has been rather sparse. I can recall scavenging through the pages of Arena Homme+ and Man About Town to catch a glimpse into Alasdair McLellan’s pastel-hued Doncaster. Or Jamie Hawkesworth’s spit-shined images of Preston’s bus stations. Yet it seems for AW19, British fashion designers are finally warming up to the cultural significance of cities like Liverpool and Manchester. Places that have played a crucial role in defining cross-generational British style.

Back at the January menswear shows, Northern lad Daniel w. Fletcher’s latest collection was a celebration of Yorkshire craft, rooted in realism. The London-based designer visited his hometown mills before setting out on creating the 1960s-inspired collection, printing shirts with pictures of Liverpool back in the day, taken from John Bulmer’s photo journal The North. A month later in Paris, Sarah Burton dedicated her knockout Alexander McQueen AW19 collection to Macclesfield, the town where she grew up, along with its neighbouring cities. Gloomy prints of Northern industrial heartlands were the focal point of the collection’s striking prints, whilst the Lancaster Rose was reimagined in the stellar taffeta gown, as worn by Anok Yai.

From Yorkshire craftsmanship to the Madchester movement, Justin Thorton and Thea Bregazzi’s latest Preen offering was throwback to the pair’s clubbing days at the Haçienda. Soundtracked by (of course) New Order, the band responsible for pumping all their touring profits into keeping the club alive, the design duo focused on fluid, twisted fits in ode to that Northern party silhouette. The acid house mecca was pivotal in cementing Mancunian youth style codes during the second summer of love in 1988. One of the first inner-city clubs not to adopt a particular dress code, attendees mostly wore slouched jeans and baggy t shirts. The pair even replicated the club’s infamous, Ben Kelly designed, interior – long live the Haçienda.

More nuanced references can be seen in the work of Bethany Williams. This year’s winner of Queen Elizabeth II Award for Design collaborated once again with Adelaide House, a Liverpool women’s shelter, appointing illustrator Giorgia Chiarion to decorate block-coloured twinsets with beautiful depictions of the sheltered women. Yorkshire-born Matty Bovan was also inspired by Northern women, though from the 17th century. Lancashire’s Pendall Witch trials of 1612 inspired skirts in Edwardian volumes and skewed gowns in a collage of fabrics and prints. It’s beauty was spellbinding.

London’s design discourse is beginning to shift to new geographical talking points. Both emerging and established designers embracing the North with open arms makes me optimistic. It’s about time we pay homage to the cultural footprint the damper cities have stomped over the Britain of today, yesterday, and most certainly, tomorrow.

Photographs by Jason-Lloyd Evans.