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North: Fashioning Identity

Author Editor - 3 minute read

In celebration of our new Manchester store opening, our January go-guide has been topped off with a visit to the latest Somerset House exhibition. Find some inspiration amidst the January blues and immerse yourself in the music, fashion and culture of the North.

Derrin Crawford and Demi Leigh Cruickshank in The Liver Birds, LOVE magazine, Liverpool, 2012 © Alice Hawkins.

From Somerset House Press Office (SH Press Office)

“The North is familiar to people who have never actually visited it”. Whether you think of the music, the fashion, the people or the landscape, everyone has an almost instantaneous visual of the north of England. A new exhibition at Somerset House explores exactly that: the visual representation of the North in fashion, art and culture, and the region’s enduring influence on these aspects of life.

North: Fashioning Identity attracted over 30,000 visitors when it originally opened at Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery last year. Having moved to the capital, the exhibition continues to draw in crowds with their own unique vision of the North. To celebrate our new store opening its doors in Manchester this month, we take you inside this must-see exhibition.

Somerset House, London

Co-curators SHOWStudio’s Lou Stoppard and academic Adam Murray mine from a huge wealth of material, with over 100 pieces of fashion, art and photography. Everyone has distinct visions of the North, as a region that commands as strong mental images as major cities like Paris or New York (as the two curators argue). More so than any other part of the country the North is rife with stereotypes and distinct identities built up over time. Since familiar themes crop up in everyone’s views of the North – music, fashion and subcultures – the two curators utilise this to their advantage to create distinct focuses as you move throughout the exhibition. They take advantage of, revel in and challenge the distinct visions that everyone has of the region.

Depictions of men and women are a prime example of this. Alice Hawkins’ portraits of women lovingly draw on a Bet Lynch stereotype, with women pictured walking down a Liverpool street with rollers in their hair. Similar stereotypes of men are drawn on in Ken Grant’s portraits, set in traditionally ‘masculine’ settings to depict the uniting influence of football in communities.

Pink lipstick, 1983 © Tom Wood

Pink lipstick, 1983 © Tom Wood

From Somerset House Press Office (SH Press Office)

Rural and industrial is given equal attention, moving away from what the curators identify as a tendency to favour the gritty industrial setting over the rural. A rural landscape from Alasdair McLellan sits alongside pieces from designer John Alexander Skelton, who sources materials and artisans exclusively from the region. From Jamie Hawkesworth’s portraits of commuters at Preston Bus Station to Alasdair McLellan’s new film Infinity ’17 exploring Doncaster, you are transported equally through the rural and the industrial.

A Raf Simons lantern finds its way to London to demonstrate the global influence of the North. The Belgian-born designer mined from the archives of graphic designer Peter Saville, the man behind album covers for the likes of Joy Division and New Order. Garments and set pieces from American designer Virgil Abloh are on display, the result of a collaboration with interior designer Ben Kelly, the man behind the infamous Hacienda nightclub’s interiors. A Manchester-inspired Paul Smith collection, sold exclusively in Japan. The city’s musical heritage has, as this room demonstrates, a vast global resonance.

Whether you remember the music, the fashion, the magazine covers or the landscape, you’ll leave with an even stronger sense of the pull of Northern identity than when you entered. Whatever your vision of the North, this exhibition both challenges and celebrates these visions, and the way that Northern identity continues to be shaped and to shape culture.