Why you should visit “North: Fashioning Identity” at Somerset House

Agyness Deyn in Rawtenstall, Lancashire (2008) photographed by Alasdair McLellan

There’s a certain mystique about the north of England that captivates on a global scale. It resonates in it’s music, it’s culture – the notoriously grey weather or damp cobbled streets. Coming to London after a stint at Liverpool’s Open Eye Gallery today arrives Lou Stoppard and Adam Murray‘s highly acclaimed, North: Fashioning Identity at Somerset House, which features over 100 pieces of work from artists, photographers and designers including Alasdair McLellan, Corinne Day, Mark Leckey, Jeremy Deller, Alice Hawkins, Raf Simons, Paul Smith, Off White’s Virgil Abloh, Peter Saville, Stephen Jones, Gareth Pugh, Nick Knight, Glen Luchford, Jamie Hawkesworth, plus the likes of Shirley Baker, John Bulmer and Peter Mitchell. WGSN’S Anna Ross reports.

Tom Wood, Pink Lipstick (1983) – Photograph courtesy of Somerset House

The beauty of the north is, it feels familiar to people who have never actually visited it – yet everyone has their own interpretation,” explains Show Studio’s  Lou Stoppard of the 50+ creatives’ work, who offer their personal narratives of the north, “…these are experiences which are either lived or experiences that are constructed,” she added. Take Belgian-born designer Raf Simons’ as an example, whose northern-inspired parkas of A/W03 hang in one of the 9 exhibition rooms, complete with graphics from [Factory Records art director] Peter Saville, whose work is synonymous of the record sleeves of bands from New Order to Joy Division – the soundtrack northern England; or America’s Virgil Abloh, collaborating on a series of graphic pillars with Ben Kelly, the interior designer behind the Haçienda nightclub – a mecca of  ’80’s Mancunian nightlife.


image: HighSnobiety – Raf Simons A/W 2003

Of course, photography – be it fashion or scenic – plays a huge role in the semiotics of northern culture; staggered throughout the gallery are a range of works including fashion portraits from Glen Luchford’s original prints of The Stone Roses, to Jason Evans’ accomplished display of street-casting shots, showing northern street-style in it’s most authentic form. The London edition highlights a “new emphasis on females, be it in subject or work from female photographers,” explains Stoppard. David Sims’ portraits for Self Service Magazine feature street-cast Liverpudlian women, photographed in their own clothes and makeup, while Michelle Sank’s interpretation of “Blaze”, a dancer pictured on the water’s edge, conjures up a world of charm and authenticity.

Blaze from the Water’s Edge, 2007 © Michelle Sank

For those who visited the show’s premiere in Liverpool, there’s much more to see, with over 20 new works including a new film by Doncaster-born photographer Alasdair McKellen or work from upcoming designer John Alexander Skelton whose collection draws on his nostalgia of the north, woven in traditional factories in the north of England. With young talent in mind, the curators have said they hope the exhibition provokes younger people to think about what the north means to them and how it has changed since the 1980s and 90s. “Maybe in ten years from now this whole exhibition will be digital.” surmised Adam Murray, on the ever-changing culture and interpretations one of Britain’s most idealised regions.


Curlers and Chips, Yorkshire, 1965, Sunday Times Magazine © John Bulmer

Tickets for North: Fashioning Identity  £7, £5 concessions. Running from 8th November – 4th February 2018. East Wing Galleries, Somerset House, London.



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