The story of how Yorkshire's mills, moors and canals influenced some of the world's top fashion designers - including Alexander McQueen and Christian Dior

An exhibition at Bankfield Museum in Halifax showcases the historical influence of West Yorkshire on international fashion. Stephanie Smith reports.

Belonging: Fashion & A Sense of Place at the Bankfield Museum, Halifax. Elinor Camille-Wood, Curator, with the Alexander McQueen dresses inspired by Wuthering Heights and the dress from the Brontes' era.
Belonging: Fashion & A Sense of Place at the Bankfield Museum, Halifax. Elinor Camille-Wood, Curator, with the Alexander McQueen dresses inspired by Wuthering Heights and the dress from the Brontes' era.

West Yorkshire, with its waterways and mills, its innovative technology, capacity for problem-solving capability and sheer hard graft, has long played a pivotal role in the history and development of fashion worldwide.

Now, the creative influence of the West Riding across the globe is also being recognised and celebrated in Belonging: Fashion & A Sense of Place, a fascinating new exhibition on the top-floor fashion gallery of Bankfield Museum in Halifax.

A collaboration between Calderdale Council and Leeds Arts University, it gathers works from international and local fashion designers, photographers and other creatives, and displays them alongside historical pieces either worn or collected by Yorkshire people.

Elinor Camille-Wood, Curator, Bankfield Museum, Nicola Knight, Course Leader, BA Fashion, Leeds Arts University, and Janie Tweddle, Senior Lecturer, BA Fashion, Leeds Arts University. Picture Bruce Rollinson

The exhibition has come about through the work of co-curators, Janie Tweddle, senior lecturer of BA Fashion at Leeds Arts University, and Nicola Knight, course leader, with Elinor Camille-Wood, curator at Calderdale Council.

They identified and spoke to a number of creatives whose work has been influenced by the area says Janie, adding: “Whether that be from growing up here and soaking up the weather and the atmosphere, or through the community spirit.”

The reach of West Yorkshire’s fashion influence sometimes surprised them. Red or Dead’s Wayne and Gerardine Hemingway told how they started their brand because of their visits to the so-called shoddy and mungo yards in Dewsbury - mills where “shoddy” and “mungo” (must not go) were made from recycled textiles.

“They collected secondhand pieces before they were sent to be recycled,” says Janie, “and used them to inspire their designs, but also took them to Camden Market where people like Jean Paul Gaultier or people from Japan would come and collect them and take them to inspire their own designs.”

An embroidered design by Edward Crutchley.

Design duo Cunnington & Sanderson, from Silsden, use locally sourced heritage wools and textiles. They say: “The raw beauty of the Yorkshire moors and surrounding landscape have always had a huge influence on us as creators and designers. We feel privileged to call this outstanding countryside our back garden.”

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Nicola says: “They have illustrated pieces sold in Liberty that were sketched from the Brontë stories. The whole process was an exciting journey.”

The exhibition also features several pieces by Edward Crutchley, who grew up in the Yorkshire Dales and has his own label, as well as being director of fabrics and graphics at Christian Dior in Paris.

A design by Alistair James.

It was Elinor’s job to find pieces from the Calderdale archive to sit alongside the contemporary exhibits, so, next to an Edward Crutchley jumpsuit finely embroidered with folklore iconography, she has placed an 18th century gentleman’s court jacket, again beautifully embroidered with a nature-inspired design.

She added: “There are also some sculptural shoes by Sadie Clayon put against some Turkish bath clogs and some Venetian patterns that date back to the 17th century.”

Sadie, from Heckmondwike, is known for her signature use of copper as she blurs the boundaries between fashion and art, referencing her dual Jamaican and British heritage.

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

A design by Sisterhood

For the Alexander McQueen autumn/winter 2019 collection, creative director Sarah Burton referenced the Brontë sisters via dresses decorated with a bleeding rose print.

“We have got two Alexander McQueen outfits,” Elinor says. “So I went into the archive and found dresses that were from that Brontë period and placed them against those McQueen dresses, so you get that juxtaposition of avant-garde designed outfits with dresses that we know were worn by local women.”

There is also work from Leeds designer Mary Benson, whose signature holographic designs are vinyl printed onto pre-owned dresses or deadstock fabrics, and from Rav Matharu, the Yorkshire-born ex-Leeds Utd player who founded streetwear label ClothSurgeon, reworking sportswear items and transforming them into contemporary directional pieces.

Calderdale has one of the best undiscovered collections in the country, says Elinor, adding: “We have some real standout pieces that researchers have said rival the V&A.”

Nicola adds: “As educators, we want to hopefully inspire younger people, so that they come and be inspired by the creativity that is in the area.”

* Belonging: Fashion & A Sense of Place is a Bankfield Museum in Halifax until March 2022. See Entry free, every Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 4pm. Instagram: @BankfieldMuseum and @belonging_fashion_exhibition

Sadie Clayton wears her own design
A design by Clothsurgeon
Blood Moon Gown by Alexander Scott, and Aurora Top and gloves
Pictured Design duo Matt Cunnington & John Sanderson.
Nicola Knight, Course Leader, BA Fashion, Leeds Arts University and Janie Tweddle, Senior Lecturer, BA Fashion, Leeds Arts University, Co Curators of the exhibition preparing one of the displays.