A Splash Of Northern Style Arrives At Somerset House, But Lacks Substance

North: Fashioning Identity, Somerset House ★★☆☆☆

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 13 months ago

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A Splash Of Northern Style Arrives At Somerset House, But Lacks Substance North: Fashioning Identity, Somerset House 2
Northern glamour complete with rollers. Copyright Alice Hawkins.

A boy plays on a terraced street with washing lines running between the houses. In another nearby photograph a woman applies glossy lipstick in a club. Welcome to the north — but there are no White Walkers and Night's Watch here as this is the north of England.

It's the theme of an exhibition at Somerset House covering photography, art and fashion from the north of England and how this sense of style has inspired designers and artists globally.

That's quite the carpet. Copyright the estate of Corinne Day and Gimpel Fils.

Photography is the strongest element of the exhibition with candid portraits of musicians and everyday people in their street clothes looking both stylish and out of place at the same time. Two women pose in glamorous outfits, but with rollers in their hair, playing on and subverting northern stereotypes.

The difficulty with these photographs from the 60s and 70s is only a few may be pinpointed as being distinctively northern to our eyes. For those of us who grew up after that era, it's hard to separate them from their southern counterparts without some context — which this show lacks.

Looking over the water. Copyright Michelle Sank.

The exhibition then segues into music, fashion and art but we're never really given enough of each to truly get to grips with what made the northern scene so distinctive. By picking such a wide topic it's almost like we're left with a trailer for a film that doesn't help us decide whether we'd like the feature film or not.

It would have been better has the exhibition chosen to just focus on one topic such as photography or fashion and focus on that rather than this breezy hotchpotch approach.

Applying lipstick in a club. Copyright Tom Wood.

For those who grew up in the north there's probably enough here to trigger some romantic flashbacks but for this soft southerner it's less Madchester and more blandchester.

North: Fashioning Identity is on at Somerset House until 4 February 2018. Tickets are £7 for adults.

Last Updated 20 November 2017