How West Yorkshire influences the fashion world

By Rebecca Woods
BBC News, Yorkshire

Published
Image source, Alistair James
Image caption, Kylie Minogue in the Swarovski-embellished Alistair James top which was inspired by a West Yorkshire moor

London, Paris, New York...West Yorkshire?

It might not be renowned for its style credentials, but a fascinating new exhibition explores how the county has influenced contemporary fashion.

Alexander McQueen, Burberry and Red or Dead are among brands whose designers have been inspired by everything from West Yorkshire's breathtaking landscape to the wit of its inhabitants.

The area's famous textile industry is also celebrated at the Belonging: Fashion & A Sense of Place exhibition at the Bankfield Museum in Halifax.

Image caption, The design duo at Alistair James may be based in London, but their inspiration comes from 200 miles north

Nicholas Alistair Walsh, one half of the duo behind the London-based Alistair James label, grew up in the market town of Sowerby Bridge.

He met his design partner David James Wise while working for Alexander McQueen and the pair credit themes from Walsh's home town for many an inspiration.

Those include a Swarovski-embellished top inspired by the heather and brambles found on Norland Moor which has been worn by Kylie Minogue and Paloma Faith.

"For me, it's always been a romantic idea: the Yorkshire moors, its peaks and valleys, the old textile mills that dot the countryside," said Walsh.

"Growing up, my parents worked at a local theatre drapery company. I'd often sneak away to play in the warehouse and sewing floors. Climbing over towers of wools, velvets and silks, I'd create my own little world among the great swaths of fabric."

Image source, Willem Jaspert
Image caption, A design by Edward Crutchley, a Yorkshire-born designer who has also worked with Pringle and Kanye West

Meanwhile, Kate Brittain, a freelance knitwear designer who has created pieces for designers such as Burberry and Rick Owens, puts much of her success down to learning how to crochet while commuting to school every day in Halifax.

And Edward Crutchley, who designs for his own label and is director of fabrics and graphics at Christian Dior, grew up in Clapham, near Settle, which was historically part of the old West Riding of Yorkshire.

In one of his collections he has referenced Yorkshire folklore through embellished text and imagery.

He said of his garments: "It's not a literal description of Yorkshire, but it's that feeling of being in the countryside, being on a fell or in a wood, and how that space makes you feel, and translating that into contemporary luxury fashion."

Sarah Burton, creative director of Alexander McQueen, said the famous Bronte sisters of Haworth were the inspiration for a dress in the 2019 autumn/winter collection. The long skirt and fitted bodice was evocative of a "Bronte heroine, wandering the Yorkshire moors".

Also featured in the Halifax exhibition are design duo Cunnington & Sanderson, who use locally-sourced heritage wools and textiles from mills based in Yorkshire.

Image source, Vivek Vadoliya
Image caption, Sisterhood is a project by Bradford-born stylist Neesha Tulsi Champaneria and Vivek Vadoliya

John Sanderson, who grew up in Kelbrook, near Skipton, met Matthew Cunnington, when they studied fashion at the University of Central England.

They are now based in Silsden, near Bradford, running their label from a refurbished mill.

"We feel privileged to call this outstanding countryside our back garden," said Sanderson.

The exhibition, at Bankfield Museum, also features images from a fashion project called Sisterhood, by Bradford-born stylist Neesha Tulsi Champaneria.

She has worked for Adidas, Vivienne Westwood, Converse and Selfridges, along with photographer Vivek Vadoliya.

"We want to celebrate the region's landscapes and give a nod to the old mills that were once the beating heart of the city to challenge this stereotypical view of the 'grey north'," said Vivek.

Image caption, The Sisterhood project aims to challenge people's perceptions of Yorkshire

The Belonging: Fashion & A Sense of Place exhibition is the brainchild of Leeds Art University's Janie Tweddle and Nicola Knight, who have worked with Elinor Camille-Wood at Bankfield to bring the research project to life.

"As fashion educators, both from the area ourselves, we felt it was important to celebrate the region's creativity and spread an aspirational message to the younger generation," Janie and Nicola said.

Belonging: Fashion & A Sense of Place opened on Saturday during London Fashion Week and runs until 5 March 2022.

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