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Locating Menswear: Liverpool

Words: Thomas Gorton

Towards the end of Bill Shankly’s reign, Bob Paisley noted in a 1973 game against Red Star Belgrade that their opponent’s technically gifted centre backs were the reason that Liverpool lost – their ability to keep the ball and build from the back had given them an advantage. A year later, Shankly retired and Paisley took charge, implementing the style that he’d seen in Europe, winning six league championships and three European Cups. Paisley’s tactical shift changed British football as other clubs raced to catch up with the change in approach. While the team was busy dominating the sport at home and abroad, Liverpool’s fans were dictating British fashion, also borrowing ideas from Europe. On away days to cities like Munich and Milan, young Liverpool fans found brands like adidas, Fila, Ellesse and Sergio Tacchini that they couldn’t pick up on Bold St and brought them back to the city. From there, the style now commonly known as “football casuals” was born, a fashion movement that started in Liverpool and spread across Britain. For these kids, going to the game was a catwalk.

The Walker Gallery’s recent exhibition 'Art of The Terraces' was an in-depth celebration of this subculture and the perfect meeting point for the second of four Locating Menswear workshops. Locating Menswear is a research project launched to investigate the connections between British and Italian menswear, led by Professor Andrew Groves, Director of the Westminster Menswear Archive at the University of Westminster, and Jo Jenkinson from Manchester Fashion Institute at Manchester Metropolitan University, in partnership with C.P. Company, SEVENSTORE, UKFT, and the British Fashion Council.

The day began with lunch at the Walker Gallery, followed by a walk-through of the exhibition and a Q&A with Professor Andrew Groves, author of 'The Liverpool Boys Are in Town' Dave Hewitson and Pauline Rushden, Head of Decorative Arts at National Museums Liverpool, who took us through not just how Art of The Terraces was put together, but why.

Then, we headed down to SEVENSTORE for drinks, where items from the Westminster Archive were being exhibited, curated by Liverpool John Moores fashion students who’d visited the archive to examine a collection of over 2,000 pieces. The clothes had been selected by the students based on their interpretation of menswear codes in Liverpool – there was a Vivienne Westwood bomber on display, a Palace football top and a Margiela scarf, amongst others. Paul Owen is a senior lecturer in Fashion Communication at Liverpool John Moores, and he’s been invigorated by the response to the research project.

“I have felt for a long time that menswear in terms of exhibition has been under-represented, so have been enthused (and surprised) to see the interest from other academics and industry partners alike that are passionate in wanting to fill that gap,” he said. “Liverpool has something in its DNA when it comes to fashion and style. I see the people of this city as very much the early adopters in fashion. The legacy of the Terrace Casuals has undoubtedly, in my mind, left a space for men to own a similar space today. Over the last decade we’ve seen the popularity of Canada Goose jackets, Missoni T-shirts and Lanvin trainers grace the streets. Today we’re seeing On Running trainers matched with technical outerwear pieces from Rab to Mountain Equipment. There is something definitive and serious about the sense of style that comes from this place. And for me, I’ve been amazed with the level of interest from the wider group outside of Liverpool wanting to know more. I’m now looking forward to capturing these untold narratives from authentic viewpoints through the Locating Menswear network.”

Professor Andrew Groves agrees that people are serious about fashion in Liverpool and explained to me why he believes that the city has played such a central role in determining British style. “Liverpool has had a huge impact on British fashion and menswear,” he said. “It's indicative of Liverpool's history as a port city, which means there's always a constant flow of goods, people, and styles passing through. It dates back much further than the 1980s; in 'The Liverpool Boys Are in Town' Dave Hewitson wrote about the giant American fridges that were brought back in the late 1950s by the men working on the Cunard ships. They were too large to fit through British front doors, so people set them up in their front gardens. To me that’s about not only having the coolest, rarest imported goods but also about showing them off to the rest of the neighbourhood! That port city influence also meant new music came through Liverpool, and with that new ways of dancing and dressing, which also became how some of the fashion trends that began in Liverpool quickly spread across the country and then the world. That sense of travel – which began with the thousands of men who worked on Cunard cruise liners sailing to America beginning in the mid-1940s – I believe led to the enormous numbers of young Liverpudlians who travelled to Europe in the 1970s and returned with trainers, sportswear, and the latest fashion. Fast forward to today, and the city continues to have that desire to find the latest fashion and styles, though now it’s also the digital as well as the physical spaces in which to find the latest drops or imports.”

SEVENSTORE is based near Liverpool’s docks, an area of the city that’s steeped in history, and a key part of its cultural story. Daniel Milne, SEVENSTORE’s Head of Creative, explained why the store is so proud to be a partner and member of the core Locating Menswear group, and helping continue to push Liverpool’s style story forward. “Our support will help investigate connections between British and Italian menswear,” he said. “Having a workshop location in Liverpool is fundamental to the exploration of the active and profound influence the city has had on menswear. The exhibition at our store has been created by Fashion Communication students from Liverpool John Moores University who have been investigating style codes within the city. The aim of this exhibition is to showcase menswear narratives that are meaningful to Liverpool and its cultural identity, as seen through the eyes of the Liverpool John Moores Fashion Society.”


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