Extraordinary event for ordinary people

When I found out about Fashion City York it was music to my ears. Something I had been considerably frustrated with was the fact that York is littered with beautiful boutiques and talented designers and, unless you have a four-hour-a-week timetable, it is nearly impossible to scout them out. So when I heard Russell Norton (Chairman of Fashion City York) was setting up an event specifically designed to celebrate fashion in York I was ecstatic.

It was an explosion of creative people joining together and working towards a common goal: to pin York on the fashion map. Norton made the ambitious decision to involve high street stores and independent stores side by side to express York’s fashion offering as a united front rather than as a corporate battle ground.

From the 3rd to the 4th of April, St Sampson’s Square in the City centre was home to the ‘Fashion Village’, a large white marquee full of independent designers and fashion labels. Saturday culminated in a catwalk at The Guildhall allowing independent designers and high street stores alike to flaunt their best outfits before the York public. The event drew lots of attention: the Lord and Lady Mayoress were sat on the front row and the compere for the evening was Elly Fiorentini from BBC Radio York. The event didn’t just draw the attention of the York fashion elite but also local everyday shoppers who wanted to see what York had to offer for the summer season.

So, waking up bright and early on Saturday morning, I headed down to the Fashion Village to spend the next few hours listening to story after story of people that have pushed their fashion dreams into reality. Jane Ferris, owner and creator of HF Couture Millinery, explained how, seven years ago, she just started experimenting with old bits of jewellery and now she runs a successful business crafting bespoke hats, hair pieces and bracelets for weddings and special events. Ferris began with an idea and now sells breath-taking pieces under her own business.

Likewise Joanne Temperton had the idea of reusing all the eel skin waste she saw whilst living in South Korea. Now she designs and sells handbags to the likes of Kate Middleton from her business Makki. She commented, “it is so lovely to have something in my home town and offer people something different”. And she was right. Walking around all the stalls offering products from remade jewellery, newly designed dresses and homemade moisturiser it was refreshing to see all the different designs created in York.

It was even more refreshing to see those designs up on the catwalk next to clothes from Fenwicks and Vivienne Westwood. Moira Sews provided a below the knee patterned navy blue vintage dress that looked as striking on the catwalk as the Ghost collection before it had done. Kelly Ewing, a designer from Leeds, stole the show with her completely unique collection of corseted and pleated dresses covered in her self designed patterns. The locally designed pieces carried an individuality that is sometimes lacking in high street pieces.

And these designs were carried off beautifully by local models. The models were ladies of all shapes and sizes, making fashion so much more accessible than the normal Fashion Week catwalks. The absence of rigorous experience meant that the women were able to take on the runway in their own unique way. The best models were the ones who weren’t trying to hide their personalities behind a straight face or the clothes they were wearing.

It was a creative event as much as it was a performance for the people working at the Catwalk and at the Fashion Village. Zoe Barnes-Chapman from Gillies Fabrics set herself the “make-a-dress-in-a-day-challenge” and spent the entire day at the Fashion Village demonstrating the skill involved in creating an up-to-date individual piece. Meanwhile, behind the scenes at the catwalk make-up artist, Catherine Smith, and hairdressers, including Bang and Fifty50, were working nonstop preparing the models for their big moment. It was a citywide mission and the public loved it – competition winner, Tabitha Buck was so impressed she was even considering changing her future career plans from lawyer to fashion journalist.

After fashion events you sometimes end up flopping into a chair at home commiserating the fact they can never afford that dress or look like that model. But after Fashion City York I jumped into bed feeling rejuvenated and excited by the homegrown inspiration Norton’s brainchild brought forth, with a constant reminder that high-end fashion is not confined to the the exclusive catwalks of New York and Milan.