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The Clothes Show's farewell to Birmingham

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Media captionThe Clothes Show's farewell to Birmingham

Over 27 years, The Clothes Show became as synonymous with Birmingham as the Bullring and Christmas markets. Yet, this year will be the last time the fashion and shopping extravaganza visits the city. BBC News looks back at nearly three decades of a fashion institution.

Back in the 1980s, The Clothes Show was a popular TV fashion show regularly attracting large audiences on BBC One.

One of its presenters, the fashion designer Jeff Banks, hit upon the idea of a live show, which would offer viewers the chance to get up close and personal with the fashion industry like never before.

The first show at London's Olympia in 1989 drew a huge response - 50,000 shoppers packed through the doors, some queuing for four hours to get in.

Image copyright Christopher Dadey
Image caption Bosses said the event would be "refreshed to represent a new era and visitor experience"

As a result, the following year's event was moved to a new home at Birmingham's NEC - the only venue that could cope with the demand.

"We didn't really have any sense of just how popular it would be," said Caryn Franklin, the other half of the presenting team who helped take the show from the small screen to the arena.

Shoppers saw the unique event as "empowering" and a chance to be part of an "exciting, glamorous world", she said.

And in a world of limited high street offerings and no online shopping, the event gave people the chance to mingle with models and designers.

As it grew and grew, The Clothes Show began to get a reputation for not just being about clothes.

It was famed for launching the modelling careers of now household names - Vernon Kay, Cat Deeley and Erin O'Connor among them.


The history of The Clothes Show

  • Borne out of the popular BBC programme fronted by Caryn Franklin and Jeff Banks
  • The Clothes Show Live launched in 1989 at London's Olympia
  • It relocated to the NEC in Birmingham in 1990 due to the overwhelming number of attendees
  • Famous faces to be scouted include Cat Deeley in 1990, Erin O'Connor and Holly Willoughby in 1996 and Vernon Kay in 1998
  • Organisers announced the event would move to Liverpool as part of "a city-wide festival" in July 2017

Being "spotted" became the stuff of folklore in the classroom. Teenagers saw the show in a different light, a career opportunity, and would don their best outfits - and highest heels - in a bid to get the attention of the scouts.

Hannah Sneath, head of faces at Select Model Management, said the firm had been going to the show for about 20 years, scouting the likes of Vernon Kay and Lisa Ratliffe.

"I think quite a lot of people, due to the success stories that we have had, go there and think they might get scouted," said Mrs Sneath.

"We are the main official agency and people know if they go there there is that potential that they will get scouted."

It also gave access to the glamour of catwalk shows - not something your average shopper would ever come close to.

And while much has changed in almost three decades (not least the fashion - think the bold colours, perms, oversized blazers and high-waisted jeans of the early 90s) the show's popularity has not waned, with about 100,000 people visiting annually.

Image copyright Mike Marsland/Mike Marsland/WireImage
Image caption Model Erin O'Connor, from Walsall, was scouted at the show
Image copyright Terry George/WireImage
Image caption Duncan James, Anthony Lowther and June Sarpong at the 2006 show

It also became a pre-Christmas shopping ritual and a signal of the start of the festive season - as much for the stars as the shoppers.

"Going to Birmingham was like kicking off Christmas," said Franklin.

Celebrity spotting became one of the highlights of the show, with visitors just as likely to visit to get a glimpse of their favourite reality star as they were a top fashion designer.

And as it has evolved it has continued to be a champion for new music - showing the important relationship between the industries.

But in the ever-evolving world of fashion, organisers have decided it is time to take the show in a new direction.

It will move to Liverpool next year to a new summer date - in July, taking place over three days.

Image caption The fashions have come a long way since the event's first show
Image caption Shoppers paid just £7 a ticket to attend the first show in Birmingham in 1990
Image caption Crowds at the first Clothes Show Live in Birmingham in 1990

The new event is billed as the "British Style Collective presented by The Clothes Show" and will be a city-wide festival, celebrating fashion, arts and culture across landmarks such Liverpool Cathedral and St George's Hall.

Show manager Nicky Darling described it as a "new era".

"We wanted to be able to give our audience something different and new," she said.

The move was a signal of the show "moving with the times", added FranklIn.

"We are going into the unknown, but what we all know, especially in fashion, is you have to keep on evolving and changing.

"The climate of shopping has changed. We are in a very different environment now and the one thing the shopper is looking for now is experience. They count the experience as very important, otherwise they will just stay at home and shop online."

Ms Darling said the show had enjoyed an "amazing time" at the NEC, but the Liverpool event would be a "new chapter" for The Clothes Show, with plans to stay in the city for the "foreseeable future".

One thing is for sure, bosses are confident that the legacy of the show in Birmingham is far more than just fashion.

Franklin added: "I've had many people over the years come up to me and say 'I'm in fashion because of The Clothes Show'.

"And that's a wonderful thing."

The Clothes Show will return to the NEC for the final time from 2-6 December.

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