If fashion and farming do not at first strike as obvious bedfellows, a visit to the Great Yorkshire Show’s Fashion Pavilion, next door to the rabbits, pigeons and poultry, will soon set you right.
You might be surprised to learn that the renowned three-day agricultural event actually provides the county’s largest and most prestigious platform for fashion designers to showcase their talents alongside some of the UK’s best-known biggest high street names.
It plays four times a day to packed audiences, from proud family and friends to industry talent spotters, those in search of wardrobe inspiration and maybe just a few who fancy a sit-down and some entertainment (especially when it’s raining).
Since 1997, the #gyscatwalk shows have been produced by Bernadette Gledhill. She has special memories of visiting the Great Yorkshire Show as a child with her aunt and uncle, who were farmers. “It was always an absolute highlight but one particular year stands out when I was a young teenager in 1970,” she says. “I went to the British Wool Pavilion where I watched my first ever fashion show. I loved it so much, I watched it twice. I never imagined that one day I would become a model and then produce and direct the fashion shows for the Yorkshire Agricultural Society. I still pinch myself every year.”
The British Wool Pavilion, as it was, began in the ‘60s. “The one thing I can always remember is that they used five models for the whole show, three ladies and two men,” says Bernadette. “The models in those days actually took to the catwalk individually. How things have changed over the years.”
Bernadette’s involvement began when her Huddersfield-based model agency began providing presentations in 1994 for Bradford College, with textile displays, presentations, a weaving loom and a tiny catwalk. Over the years, her links with colleges and universities, designers, retailers and, of course, models, hair and make-up artists, have been integral to transforming the catwalk into a major annual Great Yorkshire Show attraction, also helping create collaborations with the county’s wool and textile manufacturers.
The Royal visits have been particular highlights, Bernadette says. In 2006, the GYS launched a competition for young designers to feature a collection and meet the Prince Of Wales. “And in 2008 we had a very special day when we met the Queen. I can still feel the excitement as the moment arrived,” she says. “In 2015, once again it was a visit from the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall to discuss opportunities from around the county. The work produced by designers has always been innovative and outstanding, with amazing design features and quality.”
Many of the students have found success in the fashion industry and some have even launched their own successful fashion brands, such as Mary Benson. “We featured her collection in 2009 and 10 years later Mary returned with her very own design label and collection,” says Bernadette.
As the shows evolved, high street retailers began to take part, including Hobbs and, more recently, John Lewis. Bernadette says: “Introducing a retail element completely changed the success and growth of the show. As it is always in July, we are able to introduce a pre-ordering facility for retailers by showing a preview of autumn/winter collections. This must be the only fashion event outside of London to offer such a service.”
But the main aim over the years, she says, has been to foster links between fashion and farming in Yorkshire. Countrywear, offering the opportunity to style a festival chic theme, has always worked well on the GYS catwalk, and brands including Barbour, Cordings and Joules have been particular favourites with audiences.
In 2016 the Yorkshire Agricultural Society tweed jacket was launched using fabric designed and made by Abraham Moon in Guiseley and crafted into limited edition jackets by Keighley-based tailor and retailer Brook Taverner. With its white rose motif in the lapel and YORKSHIRE BORN AND BRED stitched under the collar, it proved to be so popular that a full suit, shooting jacket, accessories and a women’s jacket followed. In 2017 Wetherby-based designer James Steward created a wedding dress using the tweed for a rollicking barn-themed catwalk.
A collection by The Original Shepherdess was one of Bernadette’s favourites. “Alison O’Neill is from generations of hill farming stock, and took on a farm tenancy in the Yorkshire Dales nearly 20 years ago to fulfil a childhood dream to run her own sheep farm,” she says. “Alison had the idea to combine her passion for sheep farming with her love of fashion design and what a collection it was.”
Three years ago the Celebrity Catwalk launched to great success and last year the pavilion, sponsored by Kuoni, was renovated and enlarged so that the entertainment could be seen from both inside and out. Yorkshire Vets Peter Wright and Julian Norton, Anita Rani, Hannah Jackson, Lizzie Jones, Abbie Dewhurst, Amy Garcia, Hannah Cockroft, Graham Fletcher, Jon Mitchell, John Shires, Keith Senior, Owain Wyn Evans and Ryan Sidebottom have all stepped up. “We certainly found a few catwalk naturals in the making although, quite amazingly, several needed to be calmed by our choreographer backstage,” says Bernadette. Last year’s show was presented by Christine Talbot dressed by John Lewis, with hair and make-up by White Rose Beauty Colleges.
The fashion show planning and preparation begins 11 months in advance every year. Nigel Pulling, chief executive of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, said: “It first came about as a way of promoting wool and other natural materials to demonstrate the connection between agriculture and the fashion industry.
“We are proud of how the fashion show has become increasingly slick and impressive as a spectacle over the last decade or so. It brings something completely different and offers our visitors the opportunity to see a professional fashion show, which is perhaps something they would not ordinarily go to.”
Bernadette added: “The success on the show days is thanks to an incredible team that includes our senior steward, John Warburton, our technical teams, presenters, hair and make-up artists, choreographers, wardrobe and, last but not least, the fabulous models,” says Bernadette, adding: “Let’s hope we are all back bigger and better for 2021.”
*The first ever Great Yorkshire Virtual Show runs to Thursday. Star attractions include Atkinson Action Horses, a cook-off with Rosemary Shrager and Stephanie Moon, sporting soprano Lizzie Jones and a Q&A with The Yorkshire Vet co-stars Julian Norton and Peter Wright. Visit www.greatyorkshireshow.co.uk - the fashion show is at 2pm.
Stephanie Smith Instagram @yorkshirestyleQ
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