The Lotherton Hall fashion galleries show us how we used to dress. Now the Leeds museum marks its 50th birthday by presenting a very forward-looking display of local designers. Stephanie Smith reports.
Every dress has a story to tell. So too does every handbag, every shoe and every boot, every shirt, coat, jacket, glove, every piece of clothing that has ever been created and used.
Seeing what our ancestors wore gives us an insight into their lives, allowing us to understand both their everyday existence and the significance to them of events and occasions in their calendar.
At Lotherton Hall, the clothes and accessories of past Yorkshire folk, great and small, have been saved, collected, preserved to display to the public. The hall was the home of the Gascoignes from 1825 until it was gifted to Leeds in 1968, and the grounds also house a small zoo and Edwardian gardens.
This year marks Lotherton’s 50th anniversary as a public museum and illustrates the importance of the Fashion Galleries, with exhibits dating from the 1600s to the present day and designs by Vivienne Westwood, McQueen and Philip Treacy among its growing contemporary collection.
Now Lotherton is looking ahead, and preparing to celebrate style and design of the future with a showcase called Fashion Forward. “The exhibition brings together an inspiring range of contemporary designers who are forging their own path in fashion and breaking the boundaries of what fashion represents,” says Natalie Raw, curator of Dress and Textiles at Leeds Museums & Galleries. The focus is decidedly and unashamedly local, bringing together bespoke pieces from five designers, each with a strong Yorkshire connection.
Bold design duo Cunnington & Sanderson will show a selection from Occupied, their latest collection focusing on the emotional burden of depression, featuring their signature drapery using fabric from Abraham Moon & Son. One key piece is a top which incorporates a pillow. “They all begin from a narrative,” says Matthew Cunnington. “It’s surrounding mental health and raising awareness around that. I think, with depression, the bed and the pillow and the sheets become part of you and you become part of it, like a symbolism. And the model’s head, you don’t actually see her face. It’s covered. It’s designed to make people question. That’s what we try to achieve as part of our work.”
Matthew is originally from Birmingham while John Sanderson is from Kelbrook, near Skipton. They met at the University of Central England, where they were both studying Fashion Design. For 10 years they have lived and worked in Silsden in a converted jacquard mill. “It gives us a freedom not to be distracted by anything, to concentrate solely on the work,” John says. In 2008, Matthew was awarded the Grand Prize of the Jury at the Festival International de Mode and de Photographie at Hyeres, France, and they have shown since as a duo at Milan and Paris. They like to find different ways to present their work. “The fashion industry is changing a lot currently, so it’s interesting to see how people are moving forward. It’s not just solely catwalk, there’s film, even photography, in different ways, to express what you want to say,” says Matthew. John adds: “It’s important to break the cycle, that you don’t always have to be London-based.”
Sadie Clayton creates garments by sculpting copper sheeting into wearable art. Originally from Mirfield, she now lives in East London. She studied at Batley School of Art & Design and Kingston University.
“My Yorkshire upbringing is evident more through my work ethic and the way I work,” she says. “When you grow up in a small town in Yorkshire, you learn to find any way possible to achieve your goals. I will always be grateful to my roots.
“As a child with a fusion of Jamaican British and Yorkshire heritage, I found my personality and character from carving out a look for myself and styling my own clothes.”
The exhibition will feature Sadie’s copper bodice which, thanks to Arts Council England, the V&A Purchase Grant Fund and Leeds Art Fund, will become part of Leeds Museums & Galleries collection after the exhibition.
Recently, she created a copper Christmas tree for The Ivy Brasserie at Kings Cross and has several commissions underway. Her collection in holographic form was showcased at the Royal Academy of Arts and she has made sculptural pieces for humanoid robot Sophia.
“Since I moved more strongly to inhabit the space where art, tech and fashion merge, even more exciting opportunities have opened up to me and this year will see many take shape across the world,” she says. “I can’t reveal anything right now but it’s something in almost every continent.”
Also taking part in the exhibition are Leeds ethical designer Bo Carter, whose work has featured many times in the Yorkshire Post Magazine, silicone jewellery designer Jenny Llewellyn, and Faye Hindle, also from Leeds, whose sculptural designs feature pleating and fabric manipulation. There will also be work, too, from final year students of the University of Leeds, giving a glimpse into the future of fashion from the next generation.
Fashion Forward is at Lotherton Hall from March 1 to October 2019, visit www.leeds.gov.uk/lotherton.
*There’s more top Yorkshire fashion and beauty here