Open Eye Gallery has been celebrating all things northern with an innovative exhibition titled North: Identity, Photography, Fashion. Running until 31st March, the exhibition has attracted attention nationwide and has been lauded by fashion critics from The Guardian to Vogue for its recognition of an often forgotten, overlooked place in the fashion landscape.
The exhibition covers the influence of the North and its culture in fashion, music and photography, citing its influence both in British designers such as the Liverpool born Christopher Shannon, to those on a global scale such as Belgian born Raf Simons or Off-White’s Virgil Abloh who hails from Chicago. Lou Stoppard and Adam Murray, the show’s co-curators have drawn on inspiration from music, nightlife, photography, fashion and working-class culture in general to produce a show which aims to embody the spirit of Northern life as seen through fashion and photography.
Separated into three sections, North begins through showcasing fashion editorials from the likes of I-D and Dazed which display the breadth and variety of interpretation the ‘North’ creates in the minds of creatives. The images featured display individuals and landscapes of music and fashion from the North including a 2006 Love Magazine spread featuring Cara Delevingne and portraits of The Stone Roses. On display in other rooms are clothes by Off-White, Raf Simons, Paul Smith alongside limited edition Adidas trainers signed by Ian Brown and Noel Gallagher. It’s also interesting to hear, in the final part of the exhibition, a series of recorded interviews from stylists and designers who grew up in the North, hearing how areas such as Liverpool and Berwick influenced their approach to fashion.
The interview of Simon Foxton also takes you on a visual tour of the North through google maps; whilst sitting on a comfortable ‘granny chic’ bed it’s easy to engage with the interview and to visualise the rural North. The photographer Jamie Hawkesworth also created an exclusive film for the exhibition in the style of one of the major documentations of northern nightlife and fashion, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, in which he challenges the preconceived ideas many are presented with of the North such as white, heterosexual and underachieving, uneducated areas.
However, the exhibition is also sure not to focus itself on being a poster-boy for the way the North is represented in fashion and it is not scared to critique the often stereotypical representation of it – the white, working-class and heteronormative images that are so often associated with ‘The North’ and that are often fetishized by designers who fail to engage with the more ‘real’ culture of the north. Fashion editorials from the likes of I-D and Dazed & Confused are included, images which at once portray an accurate vision of the North in their glamour and excess such as Alice Hawkins’ Liver Birds, but also others which sometimes appear more as an outsider perspective, simply capturing an overtly stereotypical image of northern life.
Whether you’re from the North, South or anywhere in between, the exhibition is a must see for anyone interested in the varying ways Northern culture is represented in photography, music and fashion.
Words by Erika Janus and Jon Dawson.