The Northern Youth team had been teasing ticket-holders with a star-studded line up of collaborators, distinctive 70’s punk cut-and-paste posters and ambiguous promotional videos. After weeks of anticipation, last Friday night the Northern Youth Fashion show took over the University of York’s Central Hall in a bid to put Northern designers firmly on the map.
“The Northern Youth isn’t a moment as much as a movement.” In describing the most high-profile event to hit campus this year, student organisers from HARD magazine emphasised the purpose of the charity event was to highlight the financial and social potential of Northern designers in a bulwark against commercialism in the South. It sought to defy conservative fashion norms and celebrate raw talent, while raising thousands of pounds for local refugee charities in the process.
Drawing significant interest to the event was the unique amalgamation of two of the most influential and powerful women in journalism. Anna Wintour, who has been editor-in-chief of US Vogue since 1988, gave a rare public speech and Q&A session with the first female editor-in-chief of the Guardian, Katharine Viner.
This landmark unification brought together two women with much more in common than incredible careers. For example, both women are avid philanthropists. Wintour has raised more than $130 million for the Museum of Arts and Costume Institute, while Viner has raised nearly £3 million for refugees during The Guardian and Observer Charity Appeal. Significantly, both have a connection with the North. Viner was born in North Yorkshire town Ripon, while Anna’s heritage trails back to the first chancellor of the university and her niece, Ellie Wintour, is in her second year studying English Literature.
It is likely that many members of the audience had to pinch themselves in the surreal moment that Anna Wintour took to the stage. In her fifteen minute speech, she touched on the importance of having a broad skill set, the delights and perils of the burgeoning digital media age and the designers that have inspired her the most. Highlighting the most influential figures she has seen in her career, she draws attention to the likes of Tom Ford and Burberry’s Christopher Bailey. She also sheds light on new success stories such as Ben Silbermann, the co-founder of Pinterest, and Evan Spiegel, the entrepreneur behind Snapchat.
A prominent topic which seemed to be at the forefront of Anna’s speech was the rise of digital media. Wintour remarked that we are experiencing the biggest generational gap in decades. “Today’s generation wield so much power and influence – digital communications are an extraordinary change.” The Northern Youth committee itself had embraced all avenues of social media, with live coverage of the show via Snapchat, and an abundance of streamed content through Facebook. Although Wintour emphasised the need to embrace the digital age, she warned, “Social media is great, but don’t let it be a substitute for living.”
“I’m struck these days by how often people come up to me and ask to take a photograph, instead of shaking hands, meeting ones eye and having an actual conversation.” The queen of fashion journalism harked back to the changing landscape of catwalk coverage she has witnessed over the past few decades, noting, “People are so busy documenting the moment they forget to actually look at the clothes in front of them.”
Wintour then sat side by side with Viner to commence the Q&A session. They talked mostly about art, culture and politics, with Wintour adamant of Hilary Clinton’s suitability as the next US President. “I think she’s running a strong campaign. Of course it will be wonderful to be the first woman president, but not because she’s a woman, but because she’s the best choice.” She shakes her trademark bob when Viner asks if she’d ever delve into politics herself. When asked what she doesn’t like to wear, she responds sassily, “I’m not a fan of neon.”
As Anna took her seat among the audience, the charity fashion show commenced. The presentation dedicated itself to the North’s unique heritage and style, conveying a sense of diversity in its portrayal of its rich multicultural heritage. The fashion show united four north-based designers, including York’s own Rebecca Carr who owns Kiosk Projects on Fossgate. Completing the line-up was The Design Studio, Simon Cathart and Teresa Bunting, as well as over forty students coming together from design schools across the North of England.
The show was divided into three distinct sections which combined highly refined video graphics, sound clips and DJ sets – an uncanny reflection of Wintour’s conversation about the new digital age. Collaborating with the likes of BAFTA-winning film director Adam Curtis and Warsan Shire, a Somali-British writer and poet, the Northern Youth fashion show perpetuated an aura of change and diversity.
Billie Martin, a 17-year-old acoustic singer/songwriter who has been nominated for BBC Sound of 2016, provided a folk-inspired hypnotic backdrop to the first set of designs. Models made up of university students walked in endless circles among the stone blocks, defying any notions of conventional catwalk norms. Natural materials and ethical fashion sprung to mind as ripped edge garments and neutral colour palettes made up the floor, harking towards the beauty of the Yorkshire Moors.
With a sharp increase in tempo, the next two scenes pointed towards the non-conformity of youth subcultures in the North. Models broke out of monotonous walking patterns and arbitrarily danced and jumped across the stage floor, reflecting the show’s desire to break the borders of commercial control. They sported duvets, embroidered bomber jackets, oversized rucksacks, translucent coats and neon netting. The daring and audacious designs were matched by a hard-hitting collaborative DJ set between Metronomy and Friendly Fires, which left the audience pumped.
The show concluded with a stark reminder of its purpose. All proceeds from the event are being donated to Xavier Project, the Two Ridings Community Foundation and Refugee Action York. A representative from RAY spoke about the need to integrate refugees into the local community and the invaluable need for refuge, amenities and education for those that have fled bombing and starvation.
With hundreds of tickets sold, a silent auction, raffles and generous donations to York’s food bank, the aim of the show was to raise £50,000 to support refugees at the point of need and in the local community. it is obvious that the Northern Youth has made a contribution to society that spans far beyond the university, even further than the North, and will have an impact on the way many see fashion and the refugee crisis across the country.