Opening speeches from Guardian editor Katherine Viner and editor-in-chief of US Vogue Anna Wintour were broadcast into the dressing room, but the Northern Youth Show team had already fulfilled her advice to “be intellectually free…fearless polymaths”. Her caveats for meeting with Snapchat and Buzzfeed founders were far from wishful ambitions; the show exceeded her advice to students of “being their own editor, designer, shooter and promotor”. I’m often told by UEA students of their plans for a new project, or their many ambitions for post-grad life that don’t quite come to be. However I was thunderstruck after spending a day with the team behind Northern Youth: a fashion and arts event that blended over 40 designers’ works from colleges and universities across the North of England to honour its rich foundation and future aspirations for their community.
Creatives studying at York have rallied behind student-led HARD magazine (the organisers of the event) as an effort to challenge their creativity and create a community, one that has expanded across the North with this show. This isn’t an arts uni – the closest it comes is history of art. The clothing designers study politics and economics, pooling their money and time to create twists on minimalist garments. HARD magazine is a platform for personal projects, collaborations and expanding skills; photographers work with lighting crews, fashion stylists gain portfolios and models gain confidence, like Hannah Bennet of IMG before being scouted. They want to shake up their university’s community, not only its blooming artists, “provoking our peers…HARD is for the inquisitive reader who demands to be challenged”’
It’s hard to feel a sense of community amongst our generation, as organiser Robbie Hodges explains: “Fashion and the arts are so centralised around London; this is an attempt to prove that the North is a hub of creative talent, to reclaim the whole North/South divide in favour of the North. People are so frustrated with London becoming increasingly corporate that actually there is hope for the North to be forward-looking and for young people to tread their own path.”
Students need to reclaim their voice. We have become targeted as a prime market audience and our education is viewed as an industry. This show not only represents students promoting themselves, but also appeals to a collective sense of identity reminiscent of the 1960s.
Plateglass universities (such as UEA) share the accusations of being ‘ugly failed socialist projects’ with council estates across the UK; Cameron has privatised many housing blocks to mow them down and build bar-hubs, a form of class cleansing the welfare state. York students embrace their charitable ideals – the event has raised thousands of pounds for migrant refugee charities – so the brutalist architecture was referenced in the staging design. This was dressed by student collective ‘It’s Tropical’, a York-sprung collective that continually rotates and expands to ensure they’re always inspired.
Billie Marten performed her original composition live, as did Jack Savidge & Olugbenga (Metronomy). The show was in three parts, blending the landscape with its inhabitants and events, single outfits span centuries: ‘Of The Land’ outfits shield models from the northern winds in fur bomber jackets, scarves, torn jumpers, and a call back to the North’s industrial age with course fabrics structured into sails and ornate pattern work.
‘Keep the Faith’ portrays art and youth culture movements of the twentieth century that burst out of the socialist freedom the university was founded on. Technology lends prints and use of chemical methods, with expressive high concept and abstracted prints. The pieces reference punk with patches, rave culture with paint splatters accented by bleached denim and cuts manipulate the body’s form. Dancers were recruited as models to pose mid-air during their walk beneath the shaking rock n roll dance hall scene projected on the auditorium walls.
‘To the New’ references climate change as sheened waterproof fabrics paired with rope, binding and grids patterns. There’s also free expression of sexuality and power; form looks more alien and models are given huge backpacks. The designers of costume, set, lighting and sound seem to envisage an unstable future, yet one where they’re capable to survive and thrive in together.