Norman Rea Gallery's 'Threads of the North' Fashion Show


Ellen Morris (she/her) talks us through the student-run fashion show hosted by the Norman Rea Gallery and Hard Magazine

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Image by Josh Haining. Model: Raffaele Ardimento

By Ellen Morris

On 21 February, the Norman Rea Gallery hosted ‘Threads of the North’, a fashion show in collaboration with Hard Magazine, showcasing six local designers and a York-based vintage shop. The show was organised by two members of the gallery committee, Emilia Søgaard and Evie Darren Brett. With an emphasis on sustainability, the show encompassed a rejection of the “relentless production” of clothing from mainstream lines. Instead, ‘Threads of the North’ focused on the importance of supporting local designers and their utilisation of pre-owned materials in innovative ways.

Whilst talking to Evie, she commented that “Threads of the North was a great opportunity for us to re-define what we think of as an art exhibition, allowing us to display the variety and diversity that fashion design can induce”.

Emilia explained that the show “was inspired by our ability as a student-led gallery to transform the space we have access to and promote the art and cultural scene we have around us.”

Choosing to hold a fashion show in the gallery space reflects its consistent incorporation of textiles. Emilia says, “The gallery space is infiltrated with textiles. How they interact in the space and are articulated by the bodies that bring them is as influential as how the clothes themselves contribute to the vibrance of the gallery.”

Emilia speaks of the “traditional boundaries” of the gallery space and how it had been transformed from a “white-cube gallery space” into the perfect place to hold a fashion show, with runways carved out by strategically positioning chairs. The show was sold out, with turning heads laying the borders of the models’ routes, allowing everyone a front-seat view.

Chatter silenced as the first model entered the runway (marking the beginning of the show) adorned in Emma McGillaway’s designs. The knitwear pieces were impeccably tailored yet artfully draped, a testament to McGillaway's aspiration to empower the models. Her palette including mostly luminous pink, orange, and black created an enticing aesthetic which highlights her eccentric style. Graduating from Norwich University of the Arts, she utilises her Irish and Yorkshire heritage to explore shapes influenced by fishermen’s ganseys and Galway shawls, crafting a narrative woven with tradition and innovation.

Next entered the models wearing ‘daffodil and leek’, designed by Katie Hughes. These designs felt dreamy, featuring mostly gingham and floral patterns which seemed to float down the runway. The silhouettes of her dresses, square and free-flowing, exuded a chic modesty, reminiscent of 50s elegance. Combining patterns through contrasting waistcoat vests and dresses exhibited her versatile designs and the impressive range of materials she works with. Hughes also designs shirts, jackets, tops, and earrings, with second-hand materials such as curtains, tablecloths, bedding, and uncut fabrics. Hughes’ ‘daffodil and leek’ not only captivated everyone with her artistry but also championed the ethos of ‘Threads of the North’, embodying beauty and sustainability in perfect harmony.

Following this was a collaboration with Tash Crane Bags and Dog & Bone Vintage, intertwining the creative flair of a University of York student designer with the timeless charm of local York vintage attire. Under Tash's adept styling, models donned garments reminiscent of the 70s – shirts boasting exaggerated collars, snug sweater vests, and crew neck jumpers in a palette evocative of winter. Their Tash Crane Bags added vibrancy through the bright interwoven colours of deadstock fabrics into a stunning book-sized handbag. Speaking to Tash, she told Muse, “It’s so nice to be here in person within this space and see it all come to fruition. It feels like such a strong collaboration of designers, and it’s really satisfying to share my work with everyone”.

Aneita-Faith Gay’s designs were next – inspired by Op art and exploring the abstract ways in which pattern, colour, and form can stimulate the eye. With each stride, the models breathed life into her creations, their movement eliciting a dance of shapes and hues, defying the confines of traditional expectations surrounding the female silhouette. Aneita Faith Gay told Muse that she is “inspired by distorting the female body and how we view it. It is exploring what perfect is seen to be, because there is no perfect.” Her deliberate manipulation of the body served as a visual ruse, drawing the viewer's gaze away from societal ideals of perfection and toward a celebration of individuality. One particularly striking dress, white with vertical black stripes, initially appears to appeal to the notion of that pattern being ‘slimming’ on a woman. Yet, its triangular, billowing silhouette, punctuated by a bouncing seam, subverted this expectation, challenging the viewer to embrace beauty in deviation from the expectations of a woman. Aneita-Faith Gay’s designs call us to embrace the inherent imperfections that make each of us uniquely captivating.

Models then walked Rosie-May Fashion by Rosie Kendra, featuring unloved fabrics, up-cycled to create loveable blazers, jackets, and dresses. One dress made of hessian Brazilian coffee bags with a button front portrayed obvious upcycling, capturing an unmissable sentiment of her prioritisation of sustainability. Rosie-May told Muse: “every piece represents a process revolving around sustainability in fashion, from zero waste pattern cutting to reusing unconventional materials (like the hessian sack) and turning them into something new. As a designer, I believe it is essential to incorporate sustainable and ethical practices into our creations.”

Jilinda Graça ended the runway with her ‘Amolê Mu’ collection, translating to ‘My love’ in dialogue from São Tomé and Príncipe. Jilinda’s pieces are inspired by her aunt Isabel’s marriage, “taking elements from her life story, personality and essence”. Through cascading ruffles, graceful trails, and avant-garde silhouettes, her pieces embody a harmonious fusion of femininity and masculinity, celebrating love in its purest form. Notably, a fuschia males’ two-piece featuring a tiered ruffle crop stop and matching knee-length shorts, effortlessly crumbling the expected norm of gendered clothing. In a nod to the timeless symbolism of a white wedding, a female model wore a white two-in-one jacket outfit inspired by the train of a wedding dress, incorporating masculine features that further transcends societal constraints.

Speaking to Sacha Lewis, the model wearing the white Jilinda Graça, on her experience modelling for ‘Threads of the North’, she explained that she signed up to model for a further understanding of her module, ‘Interwoven Fashion’. As a second year History of Art student, participating in the art rather than observing the art is something that she had always wanted to experience. She also noted that “getting changed in the corridor was fun” and she had to think carefully about her underwear choice – it’s not every day you are changing with a bunch of people you don't know. It was a positive experience nonetheless, and she exclaimed that it felt “very ‘fashion’".

To finish the evening, the DJ, Subculture Nrth’s deep house set list, which had been narrating the show, subsided for Evie and Emilia to give their speech. They thanked Hard Magazine and each committee member of the Norman Rea Gallery for their support. Talking to Muse, Emilia described how their hard work preparing the fashion show paid off. She quotes “Working so closely alongside another member (Evie) in our committee to successfully pull off Threads of the North will always be one my best university experiences as the many hours put in to the planning and organisation, to the stress on the day, was rewarded by seeing the designers, models and guests alike celebrating and enjoying fashion in an inclusive, welcoming environment.”

If you have not visited the Norman Rea Gallery, take this as your sign to watch their social platforms for announcements of upcoming events. It is an amazing way to get involved in the York cultural scene with the UK’s only student-run gallery.