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Locating Menswear: Manchester

From the 18th century gentry to the sweat-stained dance halls of Cheetham Hill, Manchester’s chameleonic menswear landscape has held a mirror up to wider society for generations. For those who live against the grain, the city’s incubation of subculture has been seminal to both formative local years and global culture alike – the backbone of a sound and style that has pinned Manchester on the sartorial map. Disseminating the cultural connections between London, Liverpool, Manchester and Milan, Locating Menswear aims to explore how these relationships have shaped the face of British menswear through a local, national and global lens. At the intersection of academia and design, the research project is led by Director of the Westminster Menswear Archive Professor Andrew Groves and Manchester Fashion Institute at the Manchester Metropolitan University’s Jo Jenkinson. In partnership with C.P. Company, SEVENSTORE, UKFT and the British Fashion Council, each geographical marker aims to tap into a deeper cultural touchstone – to magnify menswear from beyond fabric, to sites of both personal feeling and collective memory. “The Locating Menswear network has enabled conversations between multi-disciplinary academics, industry partners, fashion intermediaries and local people, exposing hidden narratives of menswear in the city,” Jenkinson explained. “Not just the extraordinary or spectacular, but also the everyday from the perspective of the wearer.” Manchester Art Gallery, first opened in 1835, was the base that heralded the start of the day. Since October last year, its latest exhibition 'Dandy Style' has aimed to disseminate the concept of the male ‘dandy,’ unpicking menswear’s Brummellian early days to the uniforms of the modern streetwise raver. Split over two floors, with the downstairs housing the gallery’s newest designated fashion space, the exhibition explores the dichotomy between regency with runway; “fashion with portraiture; the classic with the modern,” says co-curator, the Winchester School of Art’s Dr. Shaun Cole. A cross-chronological curation, Martine Rose and Ozwald Boateng was married alongside 18th century military regalia; Kim Jones paired with Vivienne Westwood and David Hockney. Within their modernised menswear manifesto, 'Dandy Style' emphasises the angle of the queer, the working class and ethnic diasporas alike, diversifying the input of a conversation that has arguably been one sided throughout art and design for centuries. To blur the preconceptions of the dandy man – racially, historically – Cole and co-curator Dr. Miles Lambert took decades of generational dress into the modern guise. “We wanted to show a whole wealth of decoration,” Cole continued, “also including the decorated, the patterned, and the more flamboyant side” of menswear alongside traditional tropes. “For the young, we’re in an interesting time, aren’t we? Where conversations around gender and fashion are being had,” Jenkinson chimed. The overriding topic of the day? A dissection of the gendered connotations of dress – questioning them – in order to reinvent them for a new epoch.

In succession, a later talk given by Dr. Cole explored menswear’s veer away from widespread formality to casual explorations of class difference and streetwear. Discussing Gavin Watson’s documentation of Skinheads in the 1970s to the acid dripped photography of Dave Swindells, he unpicked how definition of the suit – once a formal tuxedo, then sporting attire, then clubbing garb – has careened through popular culture with conviction and elasticity. Chronicling the early days of the “English sporting squire” to the working-class stylings of the Manchester Scuttlers and the flares of Ziggy Stardust, this delivery was defined by one particular notion. That although menswear has shed its skin over generations, its body has remained the same – a material reflection of the zeitgeist; a canvas for expression; a vehicle for politics.

A short walk away to the city’s bohemian Northern Quarter, sporting kingpins Umbro hosted the latter half of the day. Facilitated by Jenkinson and Dr. Susan Atkin of the Manchester Fashion Institute at the Manchester Metropolitan University, workshops and talks explored how subculture and self-expression has threaded itself through Manchester’s menswear tapestry. Rooted in uncovering the city’s leisure and pleasure economies, conversations surrounding the roots of rave culture came to fruition. “Since the industrial revolution, Mancunians have gravitated towards one another in their leisure time, congregating on the football terraces, in music halls and nightclubs,” Atkin explains. “The symbolic citizenship achieved from following a particular local football team or going to a particular venue still resonates today and is a fundamental part of Manchester’s current civic identity.” In the same vein, Cultural Sociologist Dr. Beate Peter discussed her project ‘The Lapsed Clubber Archive.’ Through the digital, open-source conversation tool, the pyrotechnics, reminders and sights of Hulme’s PSV and the Paradise Factory, or Miles Plattings’ Thunderdome, are now immortalised through Peter’s work. Aiming to “preserve the spoken word memories of clubbing and its culture during the ‘first decade’ of rave, from 1985 to 1995,” it served as a reminder of Manchester’s role in bringing rave and clubwear to the world stage. In addition, the importance of research in preserving their attached memories for the local community. Adorning the walls of Umbro’s HQ, selected toasts of Groves’ Menswear Archive combed its roster to lay bare the purity of execution in Umbro’s menswear past and present. Collaborative garments made with the likes of Off-White, Vetements and Slam Jam furthered this social coalescence of activewear with luxury, recollecting attendee’s memories through dress. Recalling childhood football games to clubbing days, parental wardrobes or weekends spent on the sports field, “sportswear is the language of high fashion,” Jenkinson added, “and we aim to expand the field of menswear research. And, within that, find unheard voices and untold stories, to tell the stories that nobody knows,” she continued. Staged at the Peveril of the Peak pub – Deansgate’s canary yellow – 183-year-old watering hole, the end of the day saw the culmination of the 'Berghaus and a Beer' research project. Led by Manchester Metropolitan University’s Richard Kelly and Becky de Lacy, it hosted a common ground for menswear fans from across the city. Whilst highlighting Manchester’s place as a cultural kingpin, a shared consensus crystallised the necessity of democratising artistic and academic spaces for the young; to encourage accessibility both on the gallery wall, and on the roundtable. If this research project reflects anything, it’s that the current menswear landscape is unafraid for the future, and ready to define it.


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