It feels like a lifetime ago but London Fashion Week did actually take place in the flesh back in February 2020, when York designer Matty Bovan staged a critically acclaimed catwalk show – but did he know something that the rest of us did not when he presented designs that, with the benefit of hindsight, seemed to hint at the need for social distancing?
Using wide panniers and curtains on poles raised high above the head (made by hatter Stephen Jones), Bovan challenged the silhouette of the body, and described the mood as “off-world” – these were surely designs for a time of chaos.
Lockdown began in March and, as Covid-19 continued to put frontline workers at risk, expert sewers across the land answered the call to make protective clothing for NHS and care home staff. Yorkshire fashion designers, manufacturers, students and skilled amateur dressmakers stepped up to produce scrubs, masks, bags and hairbands. Some worked from their back bedrooms and dining tables, some in socially distanced conditions at clothing mills. In Castleford, at its trench coat factory, Burberry turned production over to making scrubs. In Huddersfield, designer Kevan Jon made headbands and McNair Shirts changed its motto from “It takes a town to make a shirt” to “It takes a town to make a gown”. In Leeds, Laura Sedman, of Laurelle Woman, joined the call to make PPE after seeing the Facebook page For The Love of Scrubs, started by Boston nurse Ashleigh Linsdell. Founder of Yorkshire Born & Thread Lisa Gilbert set up a group with nearby fellow sewers to make PPE and local companies including Brand Yorkshire and Bradford-based Downham Textiles donated fabrics. North Yorkshire farming daughter, fashion designer Sarah Thompson, made washbags for nurses to use for the safe laundering of their uniforms at home.
In May, Rita Britton, founder of the legendary Pollyanna and owner of Barnsley-based fashion label Nomad Atelier, spoke out strongly in favour of fashion sustainability and said the high street would never be the same again, with perhaps just three or four big names surviving. “And maybe that’s not a bad thing,” she added. “Maybe that needed to happen because it was getting ridiculous. We were bringing the bloody planet down.”
In June, the first lockdown was easing but its legacy of relaxed, comfortable, easy dressing seemed to point the way for the future of fashion. Some Yorkshire fashion influencers refused to let lockdown compromise their day-to-day wardrobe, however, while others adapted to create a new form of go-anywhere luxe fashion.
We asked six of them to give us a snapshot of their lockdown looks and Emily Gray, personal stylist at John Lewis & Partners Leeds, did not disappoint. “Like most people, at the start of lockdown I was living in joggers,” she said. “My go-to has become the breezable dress. I’m dressed up enough for my virtual styling appointments, while still being comfortable enough to lounge on the sofa.”
Also in June, we featured the wonderful socially-distanced fashion shoots that took place in the empty Sandersons department store near Sheffield, modelled by Rebecca Dransfield, daughter of founder Deborah Holmes. “Our e-commerce team needed a photograph of an item of clothing being worn for the website so I offered to try it on, and it started from there – we posted it on social media and the comments were lovely,” Rebecca said.
Over in North Yorkshire at Tennants Auctioneers in Leyburn, rare Burberry coats and Chanel bags went under the hammer along with a vintage Louis Vuitton suitcase, Hermes scarves and handbags by Mulberry and Christian Dior.
In August, Yorkshire special occasion designer James Steward adapted to the stay-at-home climate with a new range of off-duty sweats and tees and Halifax designer Kevan Jon also launched a luxe leisure line.
Leeds-based fashion and lifestyle brand Joe Browns, known for its cool men’s shirts, striking prints and quirky product names, launched its AW20 collection with a shoot staged near York. “We’re exceptionally lucky in Yorkshire to have so many lovely nature spots right on our doorstep,” said founder Simon Brown.
In September, Matty Bovan brought London Fashion Week to his home city when he created his own locked-down fashion show with mannequins at York Cemetery Chapel. “The images of them in situ evoke a very still, almost portrait-like quality against the surround of this classical environment,” he said.
In October we featured the beautiful AW20 fashion shoot of York-based Jones Bootmaker at The Chapel Harrogate, built in 1896 and now a luxe boutique B&B.
In November, footballer Marcus Rashford teamed up with Burberry giving young people around the world the support they urgently need.
This was the year that the fashion industry proved its value by stepping up to give essential support during difficult times. The only way is up.