First published in The Guardian 11th October 2013
For a week, Manchester‘s Deansgate has been decked with banners advertising Fashion‘s Night Out, presaging the descent of Vogue’s fash-pack in the frozen wastes of the North on Wednesday night.
As a Vogue devotee and fashion lover, I decided to drop by and see what all the fuss was about. The event was billed as a ‘fashion extravaganza’ that would involve the city’s chicest shops staying open til 10pm, hosting designers including Matthew Williamson, Sarah Burton and Jonathan Saunders, and featuring celebrity DJ sets from Pixie Geldoff, Jameela Jamil and the Maccabees.
I got to Hugo Boss early, where Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman was tipped to begin her evening, and proceeded to be glared at by a bunch of unfriendly bouncers. I didn’t blame them too much, the southern softies were clearly feeling the cold. As a freelancer, I didn’t have any card or tag that identified me as representing the Guardian’s Northerner blog and for a while, it didn’t look like I was getting anywhere near the door of what seemed to be a private party.
However, I was finally taken pity on by a kind Vogue-related woman and allowed into the hallowed (and very warm) interior of the Hugo Boss. There were lots of cocktails and stretched, lipsticky smiles and people who generally seemed very ill-at-ease, drinking champers in a brightly-lit shop while a crowd of people gathered in the cold outside, trying to see in.
Shulman was soberly dressed and didn’t look as aggressively ‘fashion’ as most of the women present (ie 6ft with eye-wateringly small waistlines). I asked her about whether she thought style was different in the north of England. “I don’t think it’s as simple as a north/south divide,” she said.
“All big cities have their own style. Manchester seems to have a two-pronged approach: one is very glamourous, feminine, out there, partying style. Then you’ve got a very gritty, urban, club music style … In fact, it’s not that different to London in that way.” Shulman added that “Northern designers have a kind of conviction about them, but I suppose all designers have to have that anyway”.
I headed over to Flannels where Matthew Williamson was expected to make a guest appearance. He was fashionably late and told the Guardian: “I think Northern style is very cool, although I don’t like using that word”. Come now, Matthew. You’re a Manchester boy, surely you have more than ‘cool’ in your descriptive arsenal? Before I could press the matter, his bother stepped in to warn me off with a snarl: that’s your one question.
Undeterred, I wandered among the girls having free manicures and picking at canapés and toting hideously expensive handbags. What struck me was that no one really seemed to be having much fun. The whole ‘joy of shopping’ thing that the event was supposed to inspire wasn’t happening. Bored-looking people with deep pockets and seriously uncomfortable shoes browsed rails and when a few of them got to talk to Williamson, they became instantly animated and laughed like wind-up toys.
The proceeds from the Fashion’s Night Out T-shirts, created by GAP, went to Save the Children and the charity chosen by Shulman. Claire Filler, regional fundraising manager for Save the Children said the event was “fantastic for the north-west, fantastic for us, and fantastic for students from the University of Manchester, who have started a Save the Children society and are selling the t-shirts”.
The charitable element of the evening was largely overlooked and none of the browsers I spoke to had any idea that Save the Children were involved, although the sales of their Hermes bags could’ve saved quite a few children.
The free cocktails and sushi looked exquisite, but the whole evening felt empty and lacking point. It seemed to be an opportunity for designer shops to stay open a bit later and for people with large disposable incomes to buy things and have their pictures snapped in the same vicinity as a couple of fashion names. I came out feeling like some kind of poverty-stricken street urchin, and very disappointed that the whole thing seemed to be about spending money, rather than a celebration of style or creativity.
Word on the street: how is Northern style different?
Annie & Lisa, Manchester: “Up North we have a more diverse look, we’ve not got a point to prove and we’re not always on show”
Sabriyah, Manchester: “I think London style is more eclectic, they put more thought into their outfits despite seeming effortless. Northern style is more to do with following trends”
Katie, Leeds: “Northern style is more grungy and urban, we’re not as posh as those girls in London!”
Nicky, Manchester: “Northern girls are more eclectic in what they choose, they’re not afraid to go wild and really dress up”
Danni, Glasgow: “In the North we’re still a wee bit glam… we like our big nights out!”