The North Comes to London

Lou Stoppard and Adam Murray initially had a bet to see how many people will would take Virgin Pendolino up to see their exhibition at the Open Eye Gallery in Liverpool. Seeing that some of the fashion crowd had not moved, the north has now made their move to the south. North: Fashioning Identity has now also exhibited in Somerset House, in London.

If you have not lived in the North you might be not aware of the rare and interesting characters you might come across if you go further up Birmingham.

But northern identity has been highly influential in fashion across the globe, renowned fashion designers such as Raf Simons and Paul Smith have been highly influenced by the club and music culture of the Northern cities. Raf Simons jackets sporting Joy Division and logos on the back is a clear reference to up north. It is surprising how much of an influence our current fashion, especially sportswear, could be drawn back to having its origin in the northern streets.

This exhibition is about the North, and is as northern as it could be, with constant reappearances of themes such as masculinity, music, domesticity, sportswear. The exhibit allows northern designers to explore their identity and how each of their respective hometowns has affected their design DNA and for visitors to see the connections. For instance, Skelton John’s collection which was displayed, references a 1930s photograph of the town of Bolton in the north of England which documents everyday life. Starting in the first room we see photographs which take us back to club in New Brighton (Liverpool) in the 70s, the club scene and the ways people decided in which to spend their time in. We can almost feel the cigarette smoke and stuffy beer smell through these nostalgic images. Across the room we see another image of girls walking with curlers in their hair before a night out in Liverpool, where these beauty rituals seem to constitute part of the club northern culture.

When walking towards the back of the room, pause for a moment to contemplate Skelton John’s beautiful handwoven jumper with Northern wool and hand dyed jacket from his Central Saint Martins graduate collection beautifully hanging from a hanger-like sculpture composed by tools. He has now become a well-established designer being stocked in Hostem and Dover Street Market whilst he manages to maintain the handmade element of the brand alive by creating all of his garments in studio by dying and constructing all the garments himself. All his garments are made out local resources, reusing materials and remaking garments out of old ones. His work is characteristic of the what in Japanese could be seen as Wabi- Sabi, clothing that is imperfect, unique and made out of humble materials in an unconventionally beautiful way.

The exhibit allows northern designers to explore their identity and how each of their respective hometowns has affected their design DNA

Walking into the closing room feels rather intrusive, surrounded by a bed and beside table with personal possessions is like immersing into a 1970s teenager room. Several retro TV’s sit around the room with an accompanying comfortable sofa or bed to sit or, if you like, lay down on where you can immerse yourself into a talked through visual experience guided with google maps about the clubs, shops and places the northern youth used to frequent.

Overall, Lou and Adam Murray manage to portray the North in its rawest and most real way. Bringing a real element to the exhibition, the display is an eye opener to the relevance the north might have had in current fashion influences and trends.

Written by Laura Jasiunaite

Photos by Laura Jasiunaite and Jennie Barck