Liverpool is usually associated with The Beatles, but the Open Eye Gallery is currently taking visitors on a tour of a wider geographical area – the north of England. The graphic stripes of the Haçienda nightclub motif, The Madchester music scene of the 80’s and 90’s and Peter Saville’s cover art for Joy Division and New Order – the stylistic and cultural trends of the north of England have been influencing the fashion industry for a long time. “North: Identity, Photography, Fashion” is a new exhibition, that brings together northern cultural history, clothing, artwork, documentary images, interviews and fashion shoots to demystify the region.

The exhibition, co-curated by Lou Stoppard and Adam Murray, explores the way the north is depicted, constructed and celebrated in selected photographs, artworks and fashion collections. The show unpicks the tropes and themes that appear regularly in design and media taking into account the rich cultural history of the region.

“North: Identity, Photography, Fashion”

2017 is the 40th anniversary year for Open Eye Gallery, an organisation that has been a huge force within both the Liverpool and international art scenes, showcasing incredible photography but always championing its home in Liverpool. Therefore, no wonder that the section dedicated to photography acts as the mainstay of the exhibition. Here one can find a variety of ideas and inspirations, ranging from the 1980s to the 2000s, and including iconic shots by Nick Knight, Tim Walker, Jamie Hawkesworth, Alasdair McLellan and Alice Hawkins.

“North: Identity, Photography, Fashion”

The display presents documentary photography from the past 100 years, including original prints from Luchford’s first ever shot – a session with The Stone Roses for The Face in 1989 – and a film of the late Corinne Day known for her photographs of Kate Moss at the beginnings of “heroin chic”.

“North” combines photography with artworks by the likes of  Turner Prize winners Mark Leckey and Jeremy Deller and clothing from influential labels. These include the now defunct New Power Studio, the former winner of Fashion East’s MAN award, rising talents Christopher Shannon and John Skelton, and iconic Adidas trainers (the company is one of the sponsors of the event).

“North: Identity, Photography, Fashion”

The most interesting subjects aren’t models, though, but anonymous people such as the ones on the streets of Manchester, at the bus station in Preston, at the Saint Leger Fair in Doncaster or like the women who worked in and around Liverpool’s waterfront or who departed from it to work at sea. All these pictures represent real lives of ordinary people.

“North: Identity, Photography, Fashion”

“North: Identity, Photography, Fashion”

The high spot

Still, the most famous fashion and music link in the exhibition remains the one between Peter Saville and Raf Simons. Originally from Manchester, graphic designer Saville is famous for his Haçienda posters and Factory Records covers. Throughout the years he worked with various designers, including Yohji Yamamoto, John Galliano and Christian Dior.

Working on his AW 2003 “Closer” menswear collection, designer Simons got the full access to Saville’s archives. He used featured graphics to replicate on German military parkas, trench coats and leather Perfecto jackets, creating a northern street aesthetic. Now, this garment changes hands for more than £20k.

“North: Identity, Photography, Fashion”

“North: Identity, Photography, Fashion”

North Soul

The exhibition is a celebration of the inspirational and innovative North focusing on its impact not only on the UK but also the rest of the world. It corresponds with the comeback of the north to the forefront of the UK fashion scene after decades of London being the only place for the industry in the UK. Demonstrating that there is more to its culture than just music, “North: Identity, Photography, Fashion” celebrates the incredible creative nature of the north.

The curators tried to consider themes and motifs that a broader audience can engage with: they wish the show speaks to people. Lou Stoppard says: “I hope people come to this show and recognise things that they experienced first hand – songs they danced to, streets they walked, clothes they wore, clubs they visited, icons they adored. It sounds simple, but I want it to mean something to people. ”

When you consider the big picture, beyond fashion, this exhibition feels timely. The curators сonceived the exhibition idea long before Brexit but what happened has only increased their drive to celebrate and analyse the North – to look beyond the capital. “You realise how huge areas of the UK are dismissed and overlooked in cultural discussions and debates. The North perhaps shouldn’t be “othered”, but it certainly deserves to be celebrated,” adds Lou Stoppard.

“North: Identity, Photography, Fashion”

Beyond the exhibition

The SHOWstudio team, one of the pioneers of fashion film, made beautiful, candid videos that spotlight different creative people discussing their upbringing and the influence of their hometown and surroundings on their creative output. These interviews will all be on display in the gallery and also available online on SHOWstudio’s North series, which corresponds with this exhibition and features additional contributions and writing.

From the outset, the curators have seen the website and the exhibition as two aspects of one project. They presented the films and essays as original pieces of work for the project, aiming to engage the audience with the work in a real world context. In other words, it became a tool for spreading the word far and wide: as not everyone is able to make the exhibition, the web lets the curators engage with a global audience about the topic.

“North: Identity, Photography, Fashion”

In fact, maybe one topic is missing in the “North” – literature. The history knows some remarkable writers who have created stories drawing inspiration in the North of England, so maybe this will be a theme to explore in the future. Meanwhile, take this exhibition as a way to (re)discover the region from the art, fashion and community perspectives: most of the images to some extent pay tribute to urban places, ordinary people, personal styles, individual creativity and youth subcultures. Overall, this small but dynamic showcase offers a compelling overview of the North’s cultural authority.

“North: Identity, Photography, Fashion” continues through March 19, 2017, at One Eye Gallery, Liverpool, the entry is free. For more information follow the gallery on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtags #North and #OEG40 for updates.

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